If you were born in the 19th century or have done your homework on the Vodka industry, then the term “a fifth of vodka” is probably one you have encountered frequently. But exactly what is a fifth of vodka?

Well, wonder no more as that’s exactly what we’ll be looking into today.

Origin of the “Fifth”

Simply put, a fifth of vodka refers to the bottle that we nowadays commonly know as a 750 ml bottle; which is the popular market standard for selling vodka and a host of other alcoholic drinks. Back in the day, particularly in the mid-90s, such a bottle size was unheard of. The 950 ml, which in truth only held about 32 oz, was the standard size for vodka, especially from wholesalers.

In the 1980s, this unit of measurement was the legal threshold upon which distilleries in America were measured against and its name is derived from the fact that this volume roughly translates to a fifth of a gallon or 4/5 of a quart.

Introduction of the Metric System

30 years before the turn of millennium signaled the beginning of the end for the fifth and many other of its derivatives, as there was a push for the United States government to adopt a new standard (metric) in favor of the old system. All the relevant stakeholders eventually agreed on the proposed change and this heralded the birth of the six metric bottle sizes to be used as industry standards i.e. 750, 1000, 1750, 200, 50 and 100 ml.

Why do we still say a fifth of vodka?

It was a common practice to measure bottle sizes against a gallon in the previous century but those days are long gone. Though it’s not uncommon for you to hear the term at your local bar or liquor store particularly during wholesale transactions. It’s persistent usage over the years, however, is nothing scientific or technical but rather it is considered a somewhat fancy vodka slang that’ll earn you the respect of strangers at the bar as it gives off a vibe of someone who knows his/her liquor. It’s also probably a case of the old age adage ‘old habits die hard.’

So how many shots are there in a fifth?

Well, it’s only natural that we had to find out just how many shots you can squeeze out of a fifth of vodka and the answer to that is exactly 25 or 16 and here’s the math to back it up:

So a fifth of a gallon – a gallon being 128 fluid ounces in capacity – has in its entirety about 25 shots (25.6 to be exact) going by the assumption of an ounce-sized shot.

The standard size in the US though stands at 1.5 ounces for a typical shot so taking the above total and dividing it by the latter figure yields a total of 16 shot glasses with some change to spare. And that’s all you need to know about a fifth of vodka.

Hopefully, now you won’t be too green the next time a conversation about the fifth starts up. Maybe you’ll even hold your own.