Bartender Basics: How To Pour Without Measuring

How much is in a pour of liquor? As a general rule, shots of liquor are 1 ½ ounces, while a “neat” pour (a spirit served solo in a tumbler) is slightly larger at two ounces.

This two-ounce pour also applies to most single-spirit drinks ordered “on the rocks” (with ice) or “up” (stirred with ice to chill and dilute, then strained). Though it seems bigger in the glass, the alcohol remains the same. It’s the ice and water that inflate the volume of the drink.

Pouring a shot is easy. The volume of the glass measures the liquor itself. For other types of glassware, however, you might need to rely on a jigger, or hourglass-shaped measuring cup, to portion specific amounts.

Learning how to pour precise measurements without a jigger is a useful skill for home and professional bartenders. It allows you to serve drinks more quickly and cuts down cleanup.

Many bartenders have mastered the art of perfect pours based on the sight and feel of the bottle, as well as a few small tricks. For those who want to brush up on their home bartending technique, or just make sure they’re not over- or under-serving guests, here are three to know.

The Four-Count Pour

Also called “free pouring,” this technique is often used in high-traffic bars where speed is of the essence. Bottles are topped with a speed pourer, a slightly curved metal spout with a rubber stopper. These spouts regulate the amount of air allowed into the bottle, which creates a steady, consistent flow of alcohol.

A four-count is just what it sounds like. As you pour, count to four (yes, with “Mississippi”), and stop. Each “count” should equal about ½ ounce of alcohol. With a bit of practice, what ends up in your glass should fill the 2-ounce side of a jigger. A perfect standard pour.

Tips for your four-count:

  • Make sure the bottle is flipped almost completely upside-down to reach a steady flow. If you only tip the bottle sideways to 90 degrees, the pour rate will be slower, and you will short your guests.
  • Ensure your thumb doesn’t cover the air hole on the speed pourer when you measure. This slows the flow of the liquid. It’s also an old, well-known bartender trick to short-pour customers who may be over-imbibing, while allowing them to believe they’re getting the full amount of alcohol.
  • Pouring multiple drinks? “Bumping” the bottle, or a quick up-and-down motion while you pour, creates an air bubble that causes a short gap in the stream. This allows you to reposition over another glass and not spill on the counter or interrupt your pour. While completely unnecessary for most home bartenders, it still looks cool.