In our “Bar Essentials” columns, I’ve suggested more than once that all you aspiring bartenders purchase yourself a jigger or two, to accurately measure the amounts of liquor you’re shaking into the cocktails we write about. Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t need to be strict about proportions in cocktails if you don’t want to be. Some bartenders get very specific about drink recipes, insisting that each cocktail only has one correct composition. I think there’s room for personal preference. Still, the best way to learn your preference is to start with the “correct” recipe (which we endeavor to print here), then tweak it as you see fit.
Using the jigger does take some of the fun out of the process, though. Exact measurements create exact cocktails, but there’s something a bit too orderly about that for something as fun as alcohol. Measured cocktails are driving the speed limit. They’re working with a safety net. They’re a Bach concerto, ticking away with impressive precision, sure, but also a bit staid and rigid. Sometimes you want your drinks to feel a bit more improvised, a bit raw around the edges. You want to add the element of danger. Drive fast. Take chances. Play in a garage band. Pour without measuring.
Well, sort of. Swishing indiscriminately from a liquor bottle is fun, but it’s very imprecise — taking a chainsaw to a job that requires a screwdriver, as the old cliché goes. If you want a happy medium, you need pourers. These are the widgets you see jutting out from the mouths of every liquor bottle at bars. They’re designed to pour a measured amount of liquor out of the bottle over time, which adds just enough control to make your free pouring accurate — the drummer in your garage band, as it were. The good ones are made from chrome, though the plain rubberized plastic varieties pour at the same standardized rate.
Either way, that rate is a 1.5 oz. shot every three seconds. Any good bartender has spent a serious amount of time practicing that pour with an empty liquor bottle refilled with water. Measure a shot into a mixing tin. Pour into a shot glass to see how close you are. Dump the shot and try again. Once you’ve practiced enough, the pour becomes automatic. You can measure off a shot with one hand while adding tonic water with the other hand, chatting with a customer, checking the score of a baseball game on the corner TV, and keeping an eye on the drunk frat boy who may or may not be bothering your girlfriend at the end of the bar.
None of that is essential for a home bartender, but it is fun. And once you master that pour, you’ve mastered every pour. A sidecar? Two ounces (four seconds) of brandy and one ounce (two seconds) of curacao. A martini? Two and a half ounces (five seconds) of gin, with a dash or two of vermouth, depending on your taste. You’re making great cocktails, and you’ll never need to use a jigger again. (Except maybe to regift your set next Christmas, to another aspiring bartender.)