The Science of Layered Shots
Originally published September 6, 2010. Updated on 9/8/2021
Layering shots is not only a pretty way to pour delicious drinks, it's also a lot of fun.
A bit of flavor mixology, some math, some experimentation, pretty colors... that's always a recipe for entertainment!
It's a shame that it seems to be a technique that's gone out of favour - the fast paced environment of today's clubs has put a kibosh on the previous popularity of layering. Bah! Let's bring it back!
How to Make Layered Shots
There are a few bits of info you’ll need to know before layering shots. Here we go!
1. Understanding Specific Gravity
"Specific gravity" is a number representative of the density of a liquid. The lower the number, the less dense the liquid is.
A few examples:
Grenadine: 1.18 (Heavier than water)
Southern Comfort: 0.97 (Lighter than water)
Just search "Specific Gravity" along with the name of an alcohol, and you're bound to find the information you're looking for.
Write down the numbers of each alcohol you would like to play with, then arrange in order.
That is to say, the higher the alcohol content of a liquid, the lighter it is - and the lower the specific gravity reading will be.
Like all rules, there are some exceptions to this.
Also, cream-based liqueurs tend to be lighter than non-cream based liqueurs of the same ABV.
Again, there are some exceptions... experiment! It's all in the name of science, after all! 🙂
2. Equipment for Layered Shots
At the very minimum, you’ll need:
- Shot Glasses
- A teaspoon
However, I REALLY recommend getting some appropriate pour spouts, as they definitely make things easier!
This photo shows my favorite type of pour spouts for liqueur bottles. It's nice to have a bunch on hand, and they cost next to nothing:
The thing that I like about this spout is that you can slow the flow of the liquid by placing your finger over the hole on the top side - gives you a lot of control!
3. Pouring Technique for Layered Shots
In addition to layering in order of density, you need to slow the pour of your liquids, as to not disturb the surface of the layer before it.
There are several methods people use - pouring over the back of a spoon, pouring down the handle of a bar spoon, using a syringe, pouring over a cherry.
My own preference incorporates a favorite style of pourer with spoon technique - see pictures and description a bit further below!
4. Mixing flavors in a pleasing way.
Each of the flavors that are incorporated into an individual shot will hit the tastebuds in rapid succession - you'll want to pick flavors that go well together!
5. Choosing Colours
All that effort figuring out the liqueur densities will be wasted if you layer liquids with a similar appearance - so choose liqueurs with contrasting colours.
In addition to contrasting color, it can be really striking to layer clear liquids with cream-based liquids.
How to Layer Shots
So, now that you have the basic idea, let's get started!
Organize Your Alcohol
First, pick out a few liqueurs, spirits, and syrups (such as grenadine) in a variety of colors and ABV / Specific Gravity readings.
Arrange them in order of specific gravity, from the heaviest to the lightest.
Pour Your First Layer
Carefully pour your first layer, trying not to splash any on the inside of the glass, above where the top edge of the layer will be.
Pour Your Second Layer
Position a spoon into the shot glass as show in the photo below.
I know most places will tell you to pour it over the BACK (convex) side of a spoon, but ignore that. Pouring down the concave INSIDE of the spoon gives you more control, IMHO.
Pouring over the convex side of the spoon introduces the element of chaos - your pour can go anywhere.
With the inside of the spoon, the pour is funneled to where you want it to go - the tip.
Anyway, aim the spoon to be near - but not actually touching - the first layer of alcohol. The tip should touch the inside of the glass.
Keep the pour as slow as you can.
I only had a teeny bottle of Bailey's on hand for this photo - the small bottles like this are good for a slow, controlled pour.
Otherwise, use the type of pour spout mentioned above, manipulating the speed by covering/uncovering the hole.
Continue carefully pouring your liquid until you reach the desired amount.
Pour Subsequent Layers
This shot incorporated only 2 liqueurs - Creme de Menthe and Bailey's, but 3+ layer shots are awesome too.
Just divide up the height of the glass, eyeballing measurements as you go.
For a third - or subsequent - layer of liqueur, just repeat the above instructions, using a lighter liquid.
Pro Tips for Layering Shots
Chilling the ingredients changes the specific gravity readings.
Liquids become less dense as they warm, and more dense when chilled.
Feel free to play with this knowledge to make your desired creations work!
Give your spoon a quick rinse between layers if possible. Residue of previous layers can mess with your pour!
Time Can Heal Some Mistakes!
If you mess up when trickling a layer into your shot glass, carefully finish pouring it, and set it aside for a few minutes.
The layers should level out on their own.
Hell, if you're planning to serve a bunch of layered shots at a party or whatever, you can cheat a bit!
Pour them ahead of time, not bothering to be too fussy about getting the layers perfect.
Arrange the shot glasses on a platter and chill. They'll settle out by the time you serve them!
The photos below demonstrates what happens when you mess up a pour (banged the bottle off the lighting apparatus!):
This was over the course of about 2 minutes - given more time, it will have corrected to a sharp line, as if I hadn't screwed it up. It didn't last that long, though - it was tasty!
*Caveat - This is assuming that there is enough difference in specific gravity for them to level out.
If your shots didn’t layer because you used liqueurs of a similar specific gravity, they’re not going to level out.
Light It Up!
If you feel like adding some drama to your shot presentation, remember this:
Your highest ABV liqueur/spirit will be on top.
The higher the ABV, the more likely it'll BURN!
Feel free to light the top of your shots on fire!
Use a lighter - not a match - to carefully light the top of the liquid aflame.
Please observe basic fire safety common sense - hair tied back, no baggy clothes dangling into the flame, etc.
Also, be careful with the flame - sometimes the flame can be hard to see!
Layered Shot Recipes
Ready to go? Try these traditional shot recipes!
Note: All ingredients are listed in order of pour. The first ingredient mentioned is poured first, etc.
Creme De Menthe
Creme de Banane
Blue Eyed Blonde Shot
Creme de Banane
Green Eyed Blonde
Creme de Banane
Interested in boozy culinary fun? You should check out my first cookbook, The Spirited Baker. It’s FULL of fun, tasty recipes using spirits and liqueurs for flavour – you should check it out:
Combining liqueurs with more traditional baking ingredients can yield spectacular results.Try Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, Candy Apple Flan, Jalapeno Beer Peanut Brittle, Lynchburg Lemonade Cupcakes, Pina Colada Rum Cake, Strawberry Daiquiri Chiffon Pie, and so much more.
To further add to your creative possibilities, the first chapter teaches how to infuse spirits to make both basic and cream liqueurs, as well as home made flavor extracts! This book contains over 160 easy to make recipes, with variation suggestions to help create hundreds more! Order your hard copy here on my website, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller.
More Cocktail Recipes
Looking for more ideas for cocktail hour? We've some recipes for you!
Birthday Cake Martini
Boozy Fun With Fresh Citrus
Boozy Sparkling Cider Float
Candied Rims for Cocktails
Candy Apple Martini Recipe
Candy Cane Martini
"Drinking in LA" Cocktail
Fresh Peach Daiquiri Recipe
Fuzzy Peach Candy Cocktail
Grown-up Hot Chocolate & Hot Cocoa
Halloween Themed Shooters
Homemade Clamato & Bloody Caesars
Homemade Wine Slush Mix
Jolly Rancher Martinis
Marie's Favourite Mojito
Rum Runners Cocktail Recipe
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