Free pouring vs. jiggered measurement
First and foremost there is one rule of production; if you are not confident with ANY recipe, it is always recommended that a jigger should be used. This will allow accurate production of the drink which in turn will allow you to try how the cocktail should taste for future reference. Once you have become familiar with any given drink’s taste and presentation, you can revert to free pouring.
There is a very fine line between the benefit of increased speed of service when using the free pour technique compared to the no risk, but slower, increased stock control of using jiggers. It is worth noting that the jigger is only slower when free pouring occurs with two hands. When it comes to making drinks with one hand, using jiggers is actually considerably quicker and more accurate but this is only the case when liquids are being dispensed from bottles that do not contain a speed pourer or when decanting from jugs.
Theoretically, if it took equal time to use both methods the obvious choice would have to be the use of the jigger quite simply because it reduces the margin for error, something that cannot be said for the free pour technique; and of course this reduction in the margin of error will produce a high quality and consistent standard of drink.
That is not to say that errors cannot occur when using jiggers, and there is indeed a pronounced technique and skill in using them both quickly and accurately, but these errors will be fewer under nearly all circumstances.
To practice and compare the relative merits, try pouring a 25ml measure of lemon juice from a small jug into a jigger and then into a Boston glass. Then pour a 25ml of lemon juice from a bottle containing a speed pourer into another Boston glass. Have someone time how long it takes to do both and how accurate each method is.
It is also worth trying to produce a round of cocktails using both techniques and comparing speed and final drinks quality. You will be amazed at how quickly you can produce drinks using a jigger once you become proficient.
However, being able to free pour using both hands simultaneously is also a key skill. If this is done accurately it is unarguably a more efficient process and allows the bartenders to work more quickly and makes them able to generate more revenue when the bar is busy. The issue lies with when this method is inaccurate (usually due to lack of practice or sloppy bartending) and when this is the case the resultant drink quality can be significantly influenced, so bars that allow free pouring should regularly test the proficiency of staff.
There is no sure fire way to learn how to free pour other than significant and extended periods of practice. Included however is a possible guide as to how you might learn the technique and some hints and tips.
Guide to free pouring
Many bartenders count to four for a 25ml pour but this actually seems quite arbitrary, primarily because it is not easily divisible for any other figure. A much more preferable approach would be to count to five for the same quantity, as this allows every ‘second’ to equate to 5mls. Everyone counts at different speeds so how do you make your five count equate to 25mls? Again the answer is practice. Take a 25ml jigger and pour directly from a bottle into the jigger, keep doing this and adjust the speed of the count until filling the jigger coincides with reaching five. Once this is mastered repeat, and then repeat and then repeat again. Every ‘second’ therefore will be 5ml, so a seven count becomes 35mls, a 4 count 20mls and so on. This technique allows all realistic pouring bases to be covered and is a good approach to free pouring.
Other techniques and issues associated with free pouring
When it comes to free pouring, the most obvious issue is that many spirits have differing densities (usually due to sugar content and/or even temperature) so naturally they pour at different speeds. There again is no hard and fast rule that allows you to accommodate for the speed of the liquid other than practice. An interesting guide appears in Gary Regan’s Joy of Mixology in which he charts the relative densities of many of the most popular liquors and liqueurs. Whilst the chart is informative and gives you an idea of how quickly each spirit will pour relative to any other it will, unfortunately, not help with your free pouring. Similarly the amount of liquid that remains in any given bottle will also influence the speed at which the liquid is dispensed and adjustments sometimes need to be made to account for this.
Another key thing to remember is how you end the pour. A key bartender affectation is known as the ‘cut’. How a bartender cuts is often relative to their sense of sexual prowess. Are you large and affected or more delicate, classy, graceful and refined? Drinks should not be thrown together with an apparent apathy: they should be constructed with grace and skill and much of the grace perceived by the customer actually comes from the way a bartender cuts. Although this sounds ridiculous and marginally unbelievable, the way a drink is poured can convey a remarkable amount about both the bartender and the establishment. Perhaps a good analogy is the way you might imagine food to be plated up in a regular restaurant (delicate) when compared with school canteen (slop).
Two popular ways to end a pour
The pop (or bounce) pour – this is often the most effective way of ending a pour, particularly if the same product is then to be used for a subsequent drink. Pop pouring is achieved by quickly moving the fully inverted bottle in a downward motion. This creates a temporary air lock in the bottle preventing liquid from being dispensed. During this time window the bottle can be corrected and replaced in the rail or moved over another glass in preparation to pour a secondary drink. The pop pour is both quick and efficient and usually prevents any spillage. Using the wrist – this is one of the more graceful ways of end a pour. The design of a speed pourer incorporates a kink in the nozzle that when twisted sends the spout in an upward direction. A subtle twist of the wrist prevents the liquid from being dispensed and is an accurate way of bringing the pour to a stop.
A bartender that ends a pour well will decant the required amount of liquid, cut and not only will it look neat but there will also be no after pour (the extra few mls of liquid that fly in all directions or drop into the peanut rail post cut).
It is also very useful to practice pouring from bottles that do not contain a speed pourer. With several years of practice this is a very effective technique and is very useful to master when using those rare back bar bottles that do not contain speed pourers. This technique can be used quite frequently for cocktail making as the eye-line of the Boston glass can be used to confirm the correct amount of liquid has been dispensed.
As a bartender of any level you ought to expect to be tested on a regular basis. The efficacy of your free pouring is essential, not only to stock control but perhaps more importantly to the quality of the drinks that are dispensed.
The Bartending News Flash Team
source: diffordsguide CLASS Magazine #76