Should bartenders use a jigger?

20th October, 2017 by Nicola Carruthers

Free-pouring may look impressive, but what does it lose in accuracy? Two top bartenders go head to head over which is better – a free hand or the precision of jiggers.

David Eden-Sangwell, brand activation executive, Catalyst PLB, Midlands

David Eden-Sangwell, brand activation executive, Catalyst PLB, Midlands

I’ve always been a fan of free pouring. To me, its one of the skills that every bartender should have in their arsenal, regardless of whether they choose to use it behind their bar every day. Yes, it’s something that takes dedication and practice to do well and consistently, but that’s kind of why I like it.

For me, a jigger is an additional barrier between myself and the guest I’m taking care of. It slows service, especially on multiple spirit cocktails where a free-­pouring bartender could easily be grabbing and pouring two or more bottles at once, and enjoying interaction with their guests at the same time.

People ask if free pouring looks unprofessional but I think it’s the opposite. Free pouring, when you’re moving confidently behind the bar, has always been a key part of showcasing a bartender’s expertise. Of course, you need to put the work in to get this expertise first. If you’re fumbling around the bar and spilling booze everywhere, maybe stick to measuring, even if just to slow yourself down to a manageable pace.

My years of working at TGI Friday’s drummed this accuracy into me; being able to pour within ⅛ oz accuracy, and being tested on complicated compound pours, where your hands have to work independently of one another. Of course, when you’re flairing, stopping to pick up a jigger is a little jarring too. I am a fan of the craft­ flair movement that involves the jiggers from the start, however.

There’s a standard way to get your pours perfect: just practise, practise, practise and see which bounces and cuts are the most consistent for you. A sheet of blue paper roll under your practice tins will show you right away if your cuts are sloppy. Invest in a good pour test kit of lined test tubes or a jeweller’s scale to check accuracy.

Free pouring may not be for everyone. Your standard pub where turnover is high and staff are just looking for some easy cash rather than a career is probably not ideal. But if you trust your staff to have your best interests at heart and the desire to progress in the industry, it’s absolutely a key skill, even if it’s used only at peak times to reduce waiting. I’d personally use it all day, every day – why choose to be less efficient?

Erik Lorincz, head bartender, American Bar at The Savoy, London

Erik Lorincz, head bartender, American Bar at The Savoy, London

I used to do quite a lot of free pouring when I started bartending about 17 years ago, but that was a long time ago and since then lots of things have progressed.

Today, I can’t imagine free pouring, apart from a cup of tea. As standard practice at our bar, we measure using a jigger. I don’t find it old fashioned at all. It’s no longer old school or old fashioned, it’s just a way of judging the final results of a drink, and at the end you want it to be a fantastic result.

For example, a Daiquiri – such a simple drink, it’s only three ingredients. But if someone free pours it, there’s a very big chance that a simple drink will turn out unbalanced. If you measure it correctly, you can create the perfect Daiquiri every time a customer orders one.

What is important here is not the way we make those drinks, it’s how they taste. Some bartenders think that free pouring looks very cool, it seems fast but at the same time if you learn how to work fast with the jigger, it can be equally as fast.

The main benefit of using a jigger is consistency – when free pouring some bartenders use some sort of counting, but some don’t count at all and just look at how much they are pouring into the shaker. But if the bartender is jiggering or using a measuring cup, the same quantities will be used and the drink will taste exactly the same each time.

You can easily over-­pour or under­-pour; of course, there are professionals who can pour 10 perfect measures, but there’s a chance that if you get disturbed and someone talks to you, you stop focusing and you begin over­-pouring or under-­pouring.

I find that jiggers, which used to be seen as old fashioned, have pretty much become standard in every bar. I remember when I started bartending, I hardly ever saw a jigger in a bar and now I never see a bar without a jigger.

Free pouring is a skill. It certainly shows you how to work fast. It’s great showmanship, but what’s most important is the ethics behind customer service – drinks should be perfect. Using a jigger can help you to work efficiently; it shouldn’t be seen as something that slows you down.

Without a jigger, I don’t feel that I can do the job perfectly.

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