What Is the Difference Between a Bottle & a Handle of Vodka?

By James Holloway

If you've ever heard someone refer to a "handle" of vodka or another alcoholic drink, you may have been confused. Although the name sounds strange, a "handle" is just a type of bottle. The term refers to a large bottle, either glass or plastic, that contains 1.75 liters -- 61.6 ounces, or nearly half a gallon -- of liquor.

close-up of a glass of ice water and a slice of lemon
credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images
A handle of vodka contains 1.75 liters.

What's in a Name?

"Handle" isn't an official name for this type of bottle, but it is nonetheless widely used. The term probably originates from the fact that some of these large bottles are too bulky for easy carrying. A full 1.75 liter bottle of vodka weighs nearly 6.25 pounds, making it a little unwieldy to carry by the neck. The handle, added for easy carrying, became the bottle's distinctive feature.

Form Follows Function

Within the broad category of handles are a variety of different shapes of bottle. Some bottles have an integral handle, while others have a pair of grooves on either side of the bottle, known as a "pinch handle." As manufacturers move from glass to plastic bottles, creating strong enough handles for the heavy bottles has proven to be a manufacturing challenge. Nonetheless, plastic bottles with attached handles are now common.

Handling the Crowd

The large size of 1.75 liter bottles, as well as their low cost relative to their size, make them smart choices for caterers, party hosts and others who need to supply a large number of drinkers. The National Institutes of Health defines a standard drink as any drink that contains 0.6 fluid ounces -- about 18 milliliters -- of alcohol. Assuming that most vodka is around 40 percent alcohol, or 80 proof, that means a handle of vodka contains 39 standard drinks.

When it's Not a Bottle

Although a handle is a type of bottle, it's a large example of the type. Most liquor bottles on store shelves hold 750 milliliters, or 25.4 fluid ounces, less than half as much as the larger handles. If someone draws a distinction between "handle" and "bottle," they may be contrasting the larger 1.75 liter variety with the smaller, standard bottle size.