It seems that the arguement here is two-fold. Freepouring advocates are saying that the properly trained barkeep can: 1. make drinks faster than, and, 2. make them with the same accuracy as, a jiggering barkeep.
In respect to the first point, I disagree. Jiggers are important tools of my trade, and I feel that a professional should know and master his tools. That includes knowing how to use his jiggers with speed and dexterity. When I'm behind the slab, my jiggers are extentions of my hands. Master your tools, master your tools, master your tools.
Well, exactly. It's perfectly clear that a bartender who has mastered the use of jiggers can work as fast as any freepouring bartender. We see this demonstrated every day in the best NYC cocktail lounges, all of which are jiggering bars.
I would argue that all the work and discipline that goes into becoming a freepouring bartender who can pour with accuracy down to the 1/4 ounce level under heavy volume all the way to the end of a shift (assuming for the moment that such a person even exists) could just as easily be spent mastering the use of jiggers at high speed and volume.
I would further argue that fast jiggering skills are more enduring (meaning that they don't have to be constantly reinforced once acquired) and more portable (meaning that fast jiggering skills acquired at one bar can easily translate to another bar with different bottles, pour tops, etc.) than freepouring skills. If a (largely hypothetical) superaccurate freepouring bartender spends a month on vacation or switches to another bar that uses different pourtops, he's going to have a not insignificant "breaking in" period to get his freepouring mojo going. The jiggering bartender can jump right in.
Also, what about bartenders who tend at more than one bar? Again, not a problem for a jiggering bartender, but I don't believe there is a feepopuring bartender alive who could compensate for two bars with different pourtops and equipment and still pour with 1/4 ounce accuracy.
Regarding the second point, I disagree with great, great enthusiasm. I simply cannot fathom a barkeep lining up four shakers, and then freepouring a Hemingway Daiquiri, a Tantris Sidecar, a Singapore Sling, and a Zombie (or any other Tiki Drink). No matter how highly trained in the freepouring arts, no matter how steady the pouring hand is, no matter how confident one may be in their bartending abilities...nobody can knock out those drinks with exacting accuracy by freepouring. Nobody.
I hesitate to say this out of fear that I will appear to besmirch the reputation of some excellent bars, but I must say. . . I guess I can believe that there is such a thing as a truly top-level cocktail bar that is exclusively a freepouring bar. But I've never been in one. If anything, I have found that the use of jiggers behind the bar is one of the surest indicators of quality.
Stuff where it's important to measure always, like Caiprinhas (mainly because we use freshly mooshed cane juice) and things that require juice and liquers in exact amounts (think Aviations with Luxardo) need to be measured to get a quality balance.
On the other hand, someone ordering Tanqueray and tonic gets it fast, as it's poured into a dry glass, iced, then hit with tonic. Piece of cake.
Yea. There are definitely certain drinks (highballs, mostly) that don't have
to be jiggered. And when the rush is on, they probably won't be. But when there's time to jigger everything, it's good practice and discipline (not to mention helping the bar control costs due to overpours).
Why is the margin of error with free-pouring small measures unacceptable, but the margin of error with dashes of bitters just fine?
I think that, when you know your bitters bottles and have a consistent dashing technique, you have a way of getting a reasonably consistent dash out of them. The point of a dasher top is to give a reasonable consistent per-dash volume. Few bitters are so strongly flavored that the taste of the cocktail will be meaningfully affected by the margin of error in a consistent and well-executed dash, whereas the different between a 1/4 ounce and a 1/2 ounce of Luxardo marqaschino will make a huge difference.
The bartenders just have to know that they can't do a "ketchup bottle dash" with a half-full bottle of Angostura bitters. In my experience, it's really only the Angostura bottle that gives inconsistent dash volume depending on the technique and the fullness of the bottle. A way around this is to always "tip dash" the Angostura bottle. If you do that, you can get a consistent dash volume even with Angostura.
One of the key points for me is many drinks are going to have to be straw tested and often adjusted before service whether you've freepoured or jiggered. Going gack to the sidecar as an example, the flavour profile of the lemon juice is going to vary from drink to drink which will have just as big an effect on the end flavour as a slight error in measurement of the spirits. The age of the ice will also make the cocktail deviate from its intended end flavour and texture.
Once you get into the realm of straw-testing and adjusting every cocktail as a way of compensating for the inherrent inaccuracies of freepouring, you completely remove any supposed advantage this technique might have as to speed and volume.
I don't agree, by the way, that the flavor profile of the lemon juice of the nature of the ice is going to change dramatically on a drink-to-drink basis so long as the bar has a good program for their ice and juices -- which should be a given for a cocktail bar on this level. Sure, lemon juice that was juiced at 5:00 won't be the same at 10:00. How different it is will depend on what kind of care the bar management is taking with its juice program. If it's dramatically different such that the cocktail ratios that were working at 6:00 no longer work at 10:00, then something needs to change.
Even understanding that a certain amount of change is certainly going to happen over the course of a shift, there shouldn't be such a dramatic change between a Sidecar made at 8:03 and another one made at 8:08 that both need to be tasted and adjusted. Furthermore, if the bartender is making accurate pours and the juice is being kept on ice in small bottles that are replenished from closed, full, refrigerated bottles as needed... any potential adjustments made by the bartender in the middle of a busy shift are going to be affected more by palate fatigue than any meaningful change in the actual balance of the drink. And furthermore, any such micro-adjustment by the bartender will be happening on a far smaller scale than the magnitude of difference between the bartender's palate and the customer's palate.
As for the whole straw-testing thing... unless the bartender is in the process of riffing something up, it strikes me that the main function of this practice should not be for the purpose of making micro-adjustments to balance, but rather simply to see if the cocktail is "off" or not. If something tastes funny, you dump the drink and make another one (perhaps after checking your juice or syrup, depending on what you tasted). The idea that the bartender is going to spend the entire evening straw-testing each cocktail and then adjusting them by adding another microliter of juice or liqueur here or there not only strikes me as a monumental waste of time, but is founded upon a false premise -- or rather two false premises: 1. that the bartender's palate remains a constant throughout the shift, and 2. that the bartender's palate correlates with the customer's palate on a similar scale to such adjustments.
Edited by slkinsey, 23 June 2009 - 08:05 AM.