How Do Bartenders Measure Drinks? [Tips & Tricks]

how do bartenders measure drinks
Joe | Last Updated: November 27, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

Have you ever wondered how bartenders nail those perfect pours without breaking a sweat? You wouldn’t be the first.

From free pouring to the classic jigger shot, liquor bottles become instruments in the hands of professional bartenders.

In this post, we take a look into the world of cocktail jiggers, shot glasses, and pouring techniques that make all the difference.

Let’s get into it…

How To Measure Liquor Like A Pro

Just starting your bartending journey? Learning how to measure liquor without over-pouring or spillages is your ticket to mixology mastery. 

Whether you’re wielding a trusty jigger, practicing the fine art of free pouring, relying on measured pourers, or opting for the precision of bottle rack systems, each method boasts its own set of pros and cons.

1. Precision Pour Bottle Rack Systems

These are the wizards of efficiency, promising accurate and swift results. While they may lack the visual flair of free pouring, they make up for it in precision and convenience.


  • Multi-Bottle Units Available: Some systems accommodate multiple liquor bottles in the same unit, enhancing convenience.
  • Accurate: These systems guarantee the accurate measure of liquor is poured every time.
  • Fast: Does not require manual measurement, speeding up the drink-making process.


  • May slow bartenders down: Waiting for access to a shared precision pour station could be a bottleneck in a high-capacity bar.
  • Less visually stimulating: The magic of watching a bartender measure or count out a drink may be lost with the utilitarian nature of these systems.

2. Measured Pourers

Measured pourers strike a balance between precision and efficiency, making them a favorite for those who seek accurate pours without sacrificing speed.

Perfect for busy bars with lots of patrons, these pourers are life-savers when the bar heats up during happy hour.


  • Liquor inventory management: These pourers control the amount of liquor dispensed, aiding in precise inventory tracking.
  • Flavor control: Ensures that each cocktail consistently delivers the same delicious flavor, promoting customer satisfaction.


  • Must purchase multiple: To accommodate various drink orders, you’ll need an arsenal of measured pourers, adding a layer of complexity.

3. Free Pouring

Free pouring is the bartending equivalent of a well-choreographed dance—fast, flashy, and visually appealing.

Perfect for the high-speed demands of a busy bar, but beware of the potential pitfalls in flavor control and revenue management.

I’ve known so many bartenders who think they are free pouring correctly only to be wasting A TON of booze and literally pouring money down the drain.


  • Saves time: Free pouring is the Usain Bolt of bartending, allowing you to quickly serve more drinks.
  • Multi-tasking: With one hand dedicated to pouring, the other is free to prepare other cocktail ingredients or engage in a bit of flair to entertain your patrons.
  • Visually enticing: There’s an undeniable charm to watching a bartender free pour, adding a dash of showmanship to the drink-making process.


  • Can yield flavor inconsistencies: The lack of precise measurement might lead to variations in alcohol content, affecting the flavor of the drinks.
  • Can lead to revenue loss: Without a formal measurement system, the risk of overpouring lurks, potentially impacting your bottom line.

4. Jiggers

Jiggers are the meticulous sidekick in any bartender’s toolkit, ensuring that every pour is measured perfectly.

If you value consistency and cost control, a cocktail jigger might be your go-to, even if it requires a bit more patience.


  • Ensures consistency: Every drink is a replica of the last, delivering a reliable and predictable taste.
  • Cuts costs: By precisely measuring each pour, jiggers minimize the risk of revenue loss, providing a clear view of liquor usage.


  • Takes longer: While the commitment to precision is commendable, the time spent measuring in a jigger might slow down the drink-making process in a thriving bar.

The Art Of Pouring Alcohol Without Measuring Amounts

Shots are usually 1 ½ ounces, while a “neat” or “on the rocks” pour is a generous two ounces, thanks to ice and water volume.

Pouring a shot is easy – just fill up the glass. For other glassware, a jigger or measuring cup is handy

Mastering precise pours without a jigger is a nifty skill for both a home bartender and a pro, speeding up service and reducing cleanup.

Pro tip: many professional bartenders rely on the bottle’s look and feel for flawless pours. 

If you’re into home bartending or want to nail serving sizes, check out these three tricks. 

1. The Candle Technique

First, grab a candle! Place it next to your rocks or highball glass. Look for the transparent lines in the glass, fill to the first (or second) line, and voila – a mysterious yet foolproof method that works like a charm.

2. Pouring A Finger

Ever heard of “a finger of whiskey”? Hold your finger horizontally alongside the glass’s bottom – the height should roughly equal two ounces.

It’s an old trick, and while results vary with glass and finger size, it surprisingly holds its own. Opt for a finger-and-a-half in a narrower glass for more precision.

3. The Four-Count Pour

Also known as “free pouring,” the four-count pour is a go-to for high-speed bars.

This is a personal favorite of mine and a trick that I use regularly when my bars get full of customers during happy hour or on lively weekends.

With a speed pourer, count to four (Mississippi-style) while pouring, and you’ve got about ½ ounce per count.

Master the flip for a steady flow and avoid thumb-blocked air holes. Want to impress the crowd? Try a little liquor bottle “bumping” for a cool flair.


From the candle technique to the four-count pour, expert bartenders have mastered the art of measuring drinks. 

Whether you’re pouring a double shot or crafting a cocktail with exact liquor measurements, understanding the nuances of liquor pours is key.

Use your first and second fingers or a cocktail measuring cup for accuracy, and never underestimate the impact of a well-executed pour count. 

In the end, it’s the small details that make the difference and keep the bar earning money as opposed to pouring it away.

Hopefully, this has been useful and you’ve learned the value of perfect pours.

See you in the next one!

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