Measurement of the ingredients in a cocktail is very important. The addition of a small amount of some ingredients can have a large effect on the outcome of the cocktail. The measurements of these ingredients are paramount.
How do professional bartenders make it look so easy? It seems as though they are just pouring away without even thinking about the ounces they are adding. The fact of the matter is they are using a measuring technique known as the free pour.
The free pour once practiced and mastered is the fastest and probably the second most accurate way to measure cocktail ingredients. You may have noticed the spigots that are attached to bottles of liquor in bars. These pourers are the key to free pour measuring. The pourers ensure the liquor comes out of the bottle in a consistent, constant rate. The pour spout of choice is the Spill-Stop Model #285-50 (pictured here). This pour spout is the most reliable and widely used.
Here's how it’s done. The first thing you have to do is condition yourself to know how long it takes to pour 1 1/2 ounces (a typical shot). To do this start with filling an empty bottle with water and attaching a pouring spout. Then take a 1 1/2 ounce jigger in one hand, stand over a sink, and pour the water into the jigger while counting in this fashion... 1 and 2 and 3 and 4... you should get to 6 just as the water starts to pour over the top of the jigger. Practice this about a dozen times until you feel like you have the timing right. (3)
Now its time to test yourself. Tryout your new skills by free pouring into a regular mixing glass. After the pour take the water from the glass and measure it in your jigger. You should get a full jigger with a small amount of run-off. If you really want to get anal you can use device called an Exacto-Pour. It is a measuring device that costs $60 to $80 bucks, but I think a $2 jigger will do just as well to test your pour.
That's it! Now you can free pour a 1 1/2 ounce shot. Practice often and don't just assume that you will stay accurate you should test yourself at least once a week. Of course once you have become decent at it you can just test yourself as you are making a drink with real alcohol. No need to drag out that bottle of water.
You say that you don't always need a 1 1/2 ounce pour? No problem. For a 1 once pour, just count to 4, for half an ounce, just count to 2. Basically what you have is 1/4 ounce for each count. There are very few recipes that will call for a liquor pour of less than 1/4 ounce increments.
Stay away from the pour spouts that measure out your liquor for you. They are just a pain because they tend to get clogged and you have to tilt the bottle back and forth if you want more than what it measures.
As stated above, the free pour is the fastest way to dispense cocktail ingredients, but not the most accurate. One can understand why it may not be the most accurate if it is not practiced enough. The most accurate way to dispense cocktail ingredients is the use of a jigger every single time for every ingredient. This is slower, but if you are not in a rush and the measure is critical... use the jigger.
A jigger is measuring device that has two sides to it, one that is bigger than the other. The whole thing is referred to as a jigger but the bigger side is the actual jigger. The smaller side is called the pony. Jiggers come in many different sizes, but I would recommend finding one that measures 1 1/2 ounces from the jigger and 1 ounce from the pony.
So, to measure out 1 1/2 ounces or 1 ounce becomes simply the task of using the correct side of the jigger. However, measures less than an ounce become a little tricky and could arguably be more accurate with the free pour. Because the jigger and pony are conical shaped you have to take that into account when you are measuring. For example to measure 1/2 ounce you would fill the pony slightly over half way. For a 3/4 ounce pour you would fill the jigger slightly over half way.
On a side note, it is thought that an egg cup was once used as a jigger until someone decided to market an egg cup as a measuring device and call it a jigger. (I'll have to do more research on this topic.)
One final method of measuring the pour is something called the finger method, a.k.a. eyeballing it. This method is usually done with ingredients that don't come in a standard liquor bottle such as, juice, cream, etc... Basically as it sounds, you simply pour the ingredient in a mixing glass and stop when you think you have the right amount in the glass. It is called the finger method because you can use your fingers held closely together at the bottom of the glass to act like a measuring mark for your pour. You may have heard someone order a drink by the fingers, "Give me 2 fingers of scotch on the rocks."
The shape of the glass, ice in the glass, the size of ice in the glass, and other ingredients in the glass, are all variables that make this measuring method very inaccurate. So if you are going to use this method of measuring for your non-bottled ingredients I would recommend always using the same mixing glass, measure the ingredient before adding ice, and test your pour as often as possible in the same way we did in the free pouring. Personally, I use a jigger for my non-bottled ingredients.
Now that you know how measuring the pour works you can actually double check your friendly neighborhood bartender to make sure they are not under pouring the vermouth in your Martini or Manhattan. ;)