Bartenders have two basic ways of measuring out the liquor and other liquid ingredients in a drink, the jigger and the free-pour. The jigger is the most accurate for the unpracticed. It is simply a small measuring device, with two cups, one on each side. Each side is a different measurement. Commonly, one side is 1.5 ounces or one shot, and the other is 0.5 ounces or one ounce. Although even using a jigger takes practice, the advantage is that the bartender can ensure that he or she pours the correct amount of alcohol every time. This means that the bar doesn’t lose money from over-poured drinks, and the guest doesn’t get cheated while receiving a good-tasting drink. However, a skilled free-pourer can be just as accurate as a jigger.
The problem with using jiggers is that it slows the bartender down. So, many bartenders prefer to free-pour. You may have seen this happening on popular TV shows like Bar Rescue or you may have seen your neighborhood bartender doing it. How in the world can someone pour a consistent amount this way? Well, the technique used for free-pouring is a timed counting system.
Regardless of whether you’re using a jigger or a free-pour, you have to use a pour spout, so that the amount of alcohol you pour is controlled. Trying to pour from the end of a bottle without a pour spout when you are in a hurry will result in a lot of spilling and splashing, and a lot of wasted alcohol and over-pouring. A pour spout fits in into the bottle’s opening and causes the alcohol to come out in a nice controlled stream, rather than a torrent.
Some fancy pour spouts dispense the liquor in controlled doses. These measured pour spouts or “sure shot” pourers use ball-bearings to control the amount of liquid that can be poured out, such as 1 ounce or 1.5 ounces at a time. They do not seem to be widely used, and this may be because getting them to work properly requires such a precise motion, angle, and speed that there is little advantage over a regular pour spout and a jigger or a free-pour method. As far as controlling costs, the measured pour spouts can be defeated by simply not using them properly.
How Does a Bartender Choose Between a Jigger and a Free-Pour?
How to pour is a very personal, and contentious, choice in the bartending industry. You may see lots of debates about which is superior, more skilled, less lame, etc. but the reality is that there are highly skilled and very speedy bartenders using both methods. Yes, you can move very quickly with a jigger. I’ve seen bartenders who can jigger as fast as anyone can free pour. It is simply practice, economy of motion, and muscle memory. The free pour bartending method may be quicker in the long-run, but it is really up to the individual which method they want to use.
Basic Method of Free-Pouring Liquors
The basic way of free-pouring is using a timed count, as stated above. The bartender will simply count off 1, 2, 3, 4, in a regular cadence, while pouring. The aim is for each number to equal 0.5 ounces of liquid poured. You may just count, 1,2, 3, 4 or you may say 1 and 2 and 3 and….it doesn’t matter. Either way, you’ll have to practice. Obviously, this is not precise and everybody will count at different speeds. To develop your rhythm so that each count will equal a consistent amount of liquor poured will take time and effort.
How to Practice the Fee-Pour
Whether you want to learn to free-pour to impress your friends (you must have a lot of time on your hands), or to refine your skills as a bartender, you’ll need a few items.
- speed-pourer spout
- 1.5-ounce jigger or other measuring cup w/ oz marks
- empty 750ml (fifth) liquor bottle filled with water
- empty cocktail shaker or glass
To practice, have all your equipment ready, including your jigger and an empty glass. Insert a speed-pourer into the end of your water-filled bottle. Do not try to use extra large liquor bottles. Stick with 750 ml bottles.
Grasp the bottle by its top end so that your thumb or your index finger is wrapped around the base of the pour spout and the other fingers are wrapped around the bottle neck close to the top. This will give you the most control over your pour.
When you pour through the spout, you want to completely upend the bottle, quickly and with one fluid motion. The actual method for practicing depends on the type of free pour count you would like to use, but it always entails counting to yourself in a slow and controlled cadence. You can say “1 and 2 and 3 and…” to establish a rhythm. Some bartenders prefer and advocate a free counting system where you basically come up with your own count. So, for example, you could end up counting to six to an ounce. This free-wheeling style may work for some but it may make more sense to have a sense of what each number actually equals in measurement, and then get your cadence set, rather than your final count set. Remember that your final count depends on the flow of your pourer, so consistency in equipment is important. Some pourers may have a fast flow, and others a slow or medium flow. Some manufacturers will give specifications such as 1/2 ounce per second. In the end, it won’t matter as long as your count is right.
A “4 Count Speed Pour” is the most common method for pouring an ounce. If you can count to four while pouring and consistently pour one ounce, then it follows that each count should equal 1/4 ounce. So, a 2-count should equal 1/2 ounce, and so on, as follows:
1/4 oz = 1 count
1/2 oz = 2 count
3/4 oz = 3 count
1 oz = 4 count
1 1/4 oz = 5 count
1 1/2 oz = 6 count (usually considered a “shot”)
1 3/4 oz = 7 count
2 oz = 8 count
This is exactly the method advocated in the video below. Although some bartenders learn to count where a “1 count” equals to 1/2 ounces, which is basically a two-count system, a four-count system like the one shown here by far makes the most sense, as this gives you the most control over your pour.
To practice, you can pour into the cocktail shaker, glass, or into the jigger. The advantage of pouring into the jigger is that you can see where to stop and then as you continue to practice this should help establish your cadence. The disadvantage of pouring into the jigger is that you can see where to stop! Also, to properly fill a jigger, you have to pour the liquid until the jigger is completely full, and the liquid bubbles up on top just a little but doesn’t spill over. It probably will be difficult to both practice your count while trying to precisely fill a jigger without spilling liquid. After all, if you wanted to use a jigger, you wouldn’t be using a free-pour. So, you may choose to practice pouring into the empty shaker and then after each count transfer the liquid into the jigger to check your amount. This is the method used in the video above. You’ll be impressed with the accuracy!