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johnder

The Infamous "Hard Shake" & Japanese Cocktail Culture

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FWIW, It seems completely reasonable to me that free pouring can be accurate. Dale DeGroff mentions practicing "free pouring" in his books, using the same equipment and repeatedly remeasuring to confirm accuracy; as a result, it's not really free pouring in the beer-and-a-shot sense. Given the uncanny precision of Uyeda's technique, it seems reasonable to assume that he's spent some of the last 40 years getting that skill down.

So I'm willing to believe that a sufficiently disciplined bartender can pour accurately in desirable ratios. The thing is, we all can also pour accurately using measuring glasses and jiggers, so we don't need to improve that aspect of our technique. What are the aspects of the technique demonstrated by Uyeda and Iguchi that you have brought back with you as valued components of your practice?

I'm going to disagree on this point. Yes, I suppose that it's possible to pour in reasonably consistent ratios when you are fresh, making three-ingredient classics in a serene bar setting where you are able to give each drink your undivided attention for three minutes. But if you remove any one of these variables, the ability to pour with reproducible accuracy becomes significantly compromised. I don't care if it's Uyeda or the second coming of Jerry Thomas himself, there is no accurately free-pouring a dozen Tantris Sidecars with high speed at the end of a busy shift. There are well understood psychological and perceptual factors at work that let us know this is not possible.

On the other hand, in a tiny Tokyo bar that offers simple classic cocktails, has a primary focus on technique and allows the bartenders plenty of time for each drink, it's more possible to hit the mark more consistently. On the other hand, this doesn't necessarily mean that that Sidecar is always 2:1:1, but rather that the sour and sweet are in balance and the cocktail comes out tasting good.

I can totally understand skepticism because I was skeptical too, initially. However, I feel 100% confident that I would be able to pick Uyeda's drinks in a blind taste test because I've never tasted anything like them. It was almost like they would taste in a really good dream. They were so vivid, evocative, polished, balanced, lush... I can't really describe them except in abstract terms. Which, unfortunately, does not help the illusion of mysticism.

With all due respect, I think it is quite impossible that you could consistently correctly identify a Uyeda example over examples from other bartenders using the exact same ingredients and amounts and a reasonably similar technique. Again, the psychology of perception and how they are influenced by expectation (not to mention the show you just witnessed and the atmosphere created, and the ways these and other factors influence your perception) are well understood. I know it's hard to accept the evidence of your own experiences that seem to indicate exactly the opposite, but there are plenty of things that real psychological testing show to be entirely contrary to expectation (for example, even self-described "wine experts" can consistently be fooled with white wine that has been colored red).

In addition to DeGroff, as you mentioned, Chris, David Embury vouches for freepouring. I have seen astonishing feats of discipline in Tokyo, and not just in Ginza. A bartender in a (busy!) Roppongi dive club blew my mind by freepouring (no spouts, mind you) into a single shaker, shaking, and serving three gimlets perfectly level with the rims of the glasses, not a drop to spare. And this was just some guy getting paid about $9 an hour to sling cassis-oranges to drunk clubbers.

All this "proves" is that the freepouring bartender was reasonably good at hitting a remembered volume mark in the shaker -- or, more to the point, that the freepouring bartender has a reasonably good "feel" for what the shaker feels like when the appropriate volume of liquid is sloshing around in there at the end of the shake. It doesn't prove that the next three Gimlets he freepours will be anything like the last three. And, of course, the Gimlet is an extremely forgiving drink. I'd like to see them do that with consistency for a drink that requires precisely one teaspoon of Green Chartreuse such that less than a teaspoon is too faint to make an effect and as much as a quarter-ounce takes over the drink. But, again, this is not the sort of cocktail that is made in Japan for the most part. If you're not doing anything more complicated than Sidecars, Manhattans, Gimlets and highballs, it's a lot easier to get by with freepouring.

Something Uyeda pointed out to me is that even when using jiggers, we still rely on feel. If I have a 1.5/.75 oz. jigger and I want to measure a perfect ounce, I am going to have to eyeball the level of the liquid in the 1.5 oz. cup and estimate when it's 2/3 full. Even an even shot can be poured a little scant or brimming a little too full.

This is the reason to have more than one jigger. The best bartenders I know typically have a 2 oz/1 oz jigger, a 0.75 oz/0.5 oz jigger and an adjustable teaspoon (or a 1/4 ounce barspoon) for smaller quantities. Meanwhile, I can pretty much guarantee that the range of measuring error between a scant jigger and a "surface tension overpour" jigger is far less than any freepouring bartender can hope for over the course of a shift.

This has, of course, migrated away from discussion about the hard shake. What seems clear to me is that shaking technique can make a difference. Preliminary experimental results bear this out. Where several bartenders prepared a cocktail from the same batched cocktail, the resultant cocktails were different. This does not, however, point to the absolute supremacy of one shaking technique over the other. I have on doubt that Mr. Uyeda is an extremely skilled bartender, and clearly part of his skill is the shaking style he developed. But it would also be naive to suppose that he hasn't helped to make a name for himself by proposing some mystical ideas about his "hard shake" that are shaky at best to anyone with an understanding of the underlying physical and perceptual science. It's a cool shake. And that's about what you can say about it.


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Of course -- but that could be true for any cultural practice. Clearly some people's experience of drinking is enhanced by flair, too. By the same token, some people don't want to wait around while people turn labels toward them: they want their hooch. Call 'em lowbrow if you want, but it's hard to escape cultural relativism when you're talking about enhancing gustatory pleasures....

Yes, you're exactly right, but those people you mention (in bold) are not the people in question here are they? I don't really understand your point to be honest. I'd be very surprised if someone rocked up to Tender in Ginza and started bleating that they hadn't gotten their drink in 30 seconds, I'd actually bet money that it'd be the opposite.

Should the Japanese change their way just because someone can't wait an extra minute for their drink?!? Should we just stop serving drinks that take that extra little bit of time?!? It's the same in every high-end bar from London, to Paris, to New York.

The fact is, those who are likely to go out of their way to sit at that bar will have their experience enhanced by the way the Japanese do things. You may walk away with more questions than answers, but doesn't that add something to the experience?

Regarding the labels point you bring up (having them face a guest), that's something I instill in bartenders when training. The bar should be set-up in such a way so that every time the liquor is poured, a beer is opened, etc., the label is facing the guest. It doesn't slow down service in any way so I don't see the relevance of this point either.

Actually, that video makes me think, "I want to practice opening bottles that way" and "I'd spill a drink filled to the rim every time."

I agree, my only gripe with that video is the fact that it's poured right to the rim, but that's being pedantic for the sake of being pedantic. However, there's no way I'd be spilling that drink, no way! :smile:

Anyways, it's a great video which is the ying to the yang of the other video posted in this thread.


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With all due respect, I think it is quite impossible that you could consistently correctly identify a Uyeda example over examples from other bartenders using the exact same ingredients and amounts and a reasonably similar technique. Again, the psychology of perception and how they are influenced by expectation (not to mention the show you just witnessed and the atmosphere created, and the ways these and other factors influence your perception) are well understood.

1. We're not talking about a controlled environment where two bartenders use "the exact same ingredients and amounts and a reasonably similar technique." Why would we be? We're talking about ordering a drink from two different bartenders and seeing who makes it better.

2. I can assure you I am in no way dazzled by either Uyeda or Tender. Tender looks like an airport bar and Uyeda is far less of a "performer" than many Japanese bartenders (none of whom can make a drink half as good as Uyeda's). If anything, New York's bars win in terms of atmosphere and show, but apparently those influences weren't strong enough.

3. A wine expert might be fooled by dyeing white wine red, but he wouldn't be fooled by cherry Kool-Aid. There was an enormous difference between Uyeda's drinks and any other drink I've had.

I get the skepticism - honestly, I do - but it's a little silly to tell me that my perceptive faculties were clouded by the show I just witnessed, or to make vague allusions to "well-understood" psychological factors, or whatever you're getting at. How would you really know enough to tell me I didn't taste what I think I tasted? Believe me, or don't.

But it would also be naive to suppose that he hasn't helped to make a name for himself by proposing some mystical ideas about his "hard shake" that are shaky at best to anyone with an understanding of the underlying physical and perceptual science.

Perhaps. But what specific "mysticism" are you referring to? What do you really know about the Hard Shake? Can you find anything other than a bad internet translation or some Eben Freemen video? You are criticizing things that I doubt you have taken much time to learn about.


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Of course -- but that could be true for any cultural practice. Clearly some people's experience of drinking is enhanced by flair, too. By the same token, some people don't want to wait around while people turn labels toward them: they want their hooch. Call 'em lowbrow if you want, but it's hard to escape cultural relativism when you're talking about enhancing gustatory pleasures....

Yes, you're exactly right, but those people you mention (in bold) are not the people in question here are they? I don't really understand your point to be honest.

My point is that expectations have a profound effect on pleasure no matter who we are or how sophisticated our palate is. I'm not talking about schmucks here: check out this Wall St Journal article about wine judging.

Taste is a matter of taste after all. I'm sure that the first French Pearl I ever had at Pegu Club was a fantastic drink; I'm not sure I can sort out all of the factors involved in that evaluation. I'm pretty sure that I'll like whatever Mr. Uyeda serves me, too, for similarly complicated reasons. Whether there's something wrong with that is up to you to decide.


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With all due respect, I think it is quite impossible that you could consistently correctly identify a Uyeda example over examples from other bartenders using the exact same ingredients and amounts and a reasonably similar technique. Again, the psychology of perception and how they are influenced by expectation (not to mention the show you just witnessed and the atmosphere created, and the ways these and other factors influence your perception) are well understood.

1. We're not talking about a controlled environment where two bartenders use "the exact same ingredients and amounts and a reasonably similar technique." Why would we be? We're talking about ordering a drink from two different bartenders and seeing who makes it better.

The point is to parse out the effect of the shake, which is the subject of this thread, and in addition to parse our the effect of the bartender's skill. The only way to do that is to control the other variables.

If, for example, Uyeda is using XO cognac or a special bottling of Wild Turkey, whereas other guys are using VS cognac and regular Wild Turkey (not to mention different ice made with different water and held at a different temperature, etc.), then the majority of the observed difference might come down to ingredients rather than technique and it might be that "just about any reasonably skilled bartender" could walk into Uyeda's bar, use his ingredients and equipment and serve up an indistinguishable Sidecar.

This is not to say that careful curation of ingredients isn't an important talent and skill. But it takes away some of the perceived aura of "mystical zen master of mixology" when you understand that the main reason your cocktail tastes so great is because the bartender used zillion dollar super-luxe ingredients and/or had spent several days methodically experimenting to arrive at a great proportional combination. So if you order a Sidecar from one bartender who uses $20 worth of ingredients and his Sidecar tastes better than the one you order from another bartender who uses $4 worth of ingredients, does that make the first bartender "better" than the second one? Does that mean that the distinctive shaking style the first bartender uses is the reason his drink tastes better? Maybe. But there's no way of knowing unless you eliminate all the other variables. These are just examples, of course, but they illustrate the reasons why we would like to eliminate these variables (among others).

2. I can assure you I am in no way dazzled by either Uyeda or Tender. Tender looks like an airport bar and Uyeda is far less of a "performer" than many Japanese bartenders (none of whom can make a drink half as good as Uyeda's). If anything, New York's bars win in terms of atmosphere and show, but apparently those influences weren't strong enough.

And yet, you clearly had already bought into the mystique. This is an influence. And decades of research in perceptual pschology tells is that these sorts of things can exert a huge influence on the perceived result. It is a simple matter of chemistry and physics, not to mention physiology and psychology of perception, for example, that a stirred admixture of reasonably equivalent volumes of Wild Turkey rye and Cinzano sweet vermouth diluted and chilled to reasonably equivalent levels cannot possibly be radically different, and would not be perceived as radically different in a double-blind test. However, we also know that in a unblinded tests, two absolutely identical cocktails can be perceived as radically different. It is quite easy to construct a "test" so that a taster will perceive one glass of wine as being far superior to the other, even though both glasses of wine were poured from the same bottle.

So, for example, it's likely that if you went into Uyeda's bar and watched him make you a Gimlet, and then at the last second it was possible to switch out his Gimlet for one prepared by someone else using a reasonably similar shaking motion (i.e., with reasonably similar aeration and ice crystal production) without you noticing, you would perceive the drink as having all of the elements of Uyeda brilliance you had come there expecting.

Again, I know that it can be difficult to discount your own personal subjective experience when it seems so clear. And we all like to believe that we're smart enough and our experience and palates are good enough that we won't be influenced by those things. Hey, I've been there myself. But these are important things to keep in mind.

3. A wine expert might be fooled by dyeing white wine red, but he wouldn't be fooled by cherry Kool-Aid. There was an enormous difference between Uyeda's drinks and any other drink I've had.

If you examine the literature on these sorts of things, you will see that huge perceptual tricks are not uncommon. The idea that the difference between a Uyeda Gimlet and any other Gimlet prepared by a top-level bartender is equivalent to the difference between red wine and cherry Kool-Aid is simply not credible.

How would you really know enough to tell me I didn't taste what I think I tasted?

I don't for a minute discount your subjective experience. I am simply pointing out that there are many, many factors that influence subjective perceptions -- and what is inside the glass is only one among them. The literature is full to bursting with examples where "experts" were influenced by external factors into giving high ratings to inferior products. This is the whole reason the double blind test was devised.

There are, for example, legions of people who will swear that they can hear the difference between the sound produced by speakers wired with $1,000 per foot speaker cable versus $0.50 copper cable, despite the fact that scientific measurements indicate that this is impossible. And, indeed, there are audiophiles who have offered a substantial cash prize for anyone who can distinguish between the two in a controlled, blinded, ABX test. No one has claimed the prize. Notwithstanding the foregoing, no one disputes that in a non-blinded environment, the listeners often perceive large differences between speakers using the different wires. No one disputes that these listeners are experiencing these subjective differences. What is in dispute is whether and to what extent these subjective perceived differences reflect real differences.

But it would also be naive to suppose that he hasn't helped to make a name for himself by proposing some mystical ideas about his "hard shake" that are shaky at best to anyone with an understanding of the underlying physical and perceptual science.

Perhaps. But what specific "mysticism" are you referring to? What do you really know about the Hard Shake? Can you find anything other than a bad internet translation or some Eben Freemen video? You are criticizing things that I doubt you have taken much time to learn about.

A large amount of the skepcicism I have is grounded in my understanding of the underlying science involved. And some claims I have read as to the effects and physical characteristics of this shaking style simply do not accord with what I understand about the laws of chemistry, physics, etc. Do shaking styles and bartending equipment have an influence on the finished product? Absolutely. This has been confirmed in blinded comparisons (it would be interesting to compare the blinded and unblinded evaluations and preferences of cocktails produced by different bartenders/shaking techniqies). But the idea that Uyeda has somehow arrived at some kind of magical flick of the wrists that makes his drinks twice as good as drinks made by anyone else? There is no way that a shaking style can have that much influence. It's like suggesting that a chef has a special way of stirring the sauce that makes it twice as good as anyone else's.


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I lived in Tokyo until last March (for a year and a half) and mentored with Uyeda for six months, and also with Noriyuki Iguchi of Gaslight, Director of Training for the Nippon Bartending Association - the bartender you see in the video that you've linked to, Chris. I also worked as a bartender in Tokyo for a year.

. . .

I was in Tokyo again a few weeks ago and took the opportunity to meet with Uyeda a few times and once again visit his bar, Tender. I had a Manhattan (some unknown bottling of Wild Turkey Rye, Cinzano, no bitters) a Sidecar (Hennessy XO, fresh lemon, Cointreau) and a Gimlet (plain old Gordon's, fresh lime, simple syrup).

These three drinks were so far beyond anything I'd ever tasted that I was stunned. Since returning from Tokyo I have visited as many bars as I could in New York and the UK, and also revisited the Violet Hour in Chicago. I had some fantastic drinks at these bars (especially D&Co, Pegu, London's M&H and TVH). Yet I walked out of Tender shaking my head in astonishment.

I'm confused. You "mentored" with Uyeda for six months, yet it wasn't until you returned to Tokyo that you tried his drinks? Or is it that they weren't transcendent when you were working with him, and only became so in the months you were away? If so, what happened during that time?

I can totally understand skepticism because I was skeptical too, initially.

2. I can assure you I am in no way dazzled by either Uyeda or Tender. Tender looks like an airport bar and Uyeda is far less of a "performer" than many Japanese bartenders (none of whom can make a drink half as good as Uyeda's). If anything, New York's bars win in terms of atmosphere and show, but apparently those influences weren't strong enough.

I get the skepticism - honestly, I do - but it's a little silly to tell me that my perceptive faculties were clouded by the show I just witnessed. . . .

Again, why were you skeptical if you'd mentored with Uyeda?

Are you saying that working with the man for six months made no difference to your attitude? If I called someone a "mentor" I don't think I could claim that I was objective about him.

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I think discussions such as this often ruffle people's feathers a bit because there is the sense that value judgments are being attached to the objective and subjective qualities of a sensory experience. This is unfortunate. What Sam is talking about is simply understanding the separate contributions of the quantifiable qualities of a drink (ingredients, texture, temperature, etc.) and the subjective factors that will impact how it is perceived (who makes it, where it is consumed, and so on). Nobody has made a statement that one is inherently more important than the other. Their relative importance will likely vary considerably from person to person, so to some extent it's moot to try to generalize.


 

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Well put, Dave. I would never discount someone's subjective experience. I am, however, trying to point out that most of the judgments and evaluations we make which we presume to be objective are in fact nothing of the sort. I would argue that it is impossible for a person to make a truly objective evaluation. More to the point, it takes quite a bit of doing to minimize external influences to the extent needed to make even a reasonably objective evaluation.

This is why I am routinely skeptical of absolute pronouncements based upon the premise that one has made objective observations and evaluations -- especially when it seems as though the perceived phenomena or magnitude of differences would not be possible on a physical basis.

I would actually argue that an individual's subjective experience of sitting in Uyeda's bar and having the best cocktails of his life is the most important and valid of all. To that person. Where things become difficult is the temptation to generalize an individual subjective experience and extend it outward to all conditions.


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The point is to parse out the effect of the shake, which is the subject of this thread, and in addition to parse our the effect of the bartender's skill. The only way to do that is to control the other variables.

Just so we're clear, I have never posited that the the quality of Uyeda's was solely due to the Hard Shake. I don't know that. Was it his proportions? Ice? Really good limes and sugar? The truth is that I have no idea what he's doing right... but I do believe that he's onto something.

And yet, you clearly had already bought into the mystique. This is an influence.

I did not buy into anything. I was quite skeptical when I walked in to Tender and ordered a drink, expecting to get just another Japanese-style cocktail. (See note below.)

......I see what you're saying here, and I understand the points you're raising. But there are some things that just don't compute for me. I don't have any good explanations, but I am keeping my mind open. So far my experiences tell me there's something interesting here.

For one thing, I get your point that perception of flavor (hell, perception of anything, probably) can be drastically altered by external factors. Definitely it can. But just because human perception can been influenced doesn't necessarily mean that those drinks weren't as good as they seemed. And it doesn't explain the fact that I have never had a similar reaction in any bar in the world that I've been to, despite the fact that Tender is pretty unremarkable in most ways.

If anything, the suggestion of such a powerful, overriding subliminal influence on my sense of taste - and the idea that Uyeda could master this power of influence on a consistent basis to become the most renowned bartender in Japan - seems more mystical than the Hard Shake. So that's one thing that doesn't really compute in my head.

I don't know much about science myself, but even to me there is something abstract about some of these ideas that seem pretty unscientific. Some of it, at least. Aeration can be measured, but how does one measure the blending and unifying of flavor? Does agitating liquids = mixing, or is the process harder than that, as Uyeda believes? Because I know so little about science, I'm willing to accept that there may be things it can't explain. To someone with a little more background, that might be unsatisfactory.

Janet, To clarify the timeline:

I mentored with Uyeda for six months while I was tending in Tokyo. This was the spring and summer of 2008. During that time I drank at Tender several times and was very impressed, but was on the fence about the methods involved - for reasons that Sam and others bring up. (To my mind, it might have been like giving a wine novice a bottle of really good Bordeaux, or what-have-you. They'd think it was nice, but not have the context to really appreciate it.)

I returned to the US in March of 2009 and throughout that summer went to New York, London, Scotland and Chicago to check out some of the bars I had been reading so much about when I was living in Japan. I made it a practice to order something basic and classic for my first drink from each bartender, so that I had at least some kind of frame of reference.

When I went back to Tokyo in November, I had pretty much decided that Japanese bartending was cool and all, but that New York and London both seemed like better for cocktails. I had a bunch of experiences in various cocktail bars throughout Tokyo that seemed to verify this impression, but when I visited Tender again it completely blew my mind. (I could only attribute it to time spent over the past 9 months "researching": tasting other bartenders Sidecars, Gimlets, Manhattans.) I was astonished because I did not remember the drinks being anywhere near as good as they were, but truly - I have never had anything like them.

I believe that there are other bartenders somewhere in the world who are capable of making equally good drinks - without needing the Hard Shake - but I believe them to be few. I have never met another.


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My point is that expectations have a profound effect on pleasure no matter who we are or how sophisticated our palate is. I'm not talking about schmucks here:

I am well aware that expectations have an effect, which is what I alluded to in an earlier post when I spoke about the show adding to the experience.

What I was questioning was your statement regarding 'people who don't want to wait around while a label is turned toward them' as I really don't think it bears any relevance to the topic in hand. There's a lot of things in the World that a lot of people don't or won't appreciate, it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it though...

Taste is a matter of taste after all. I'm sure that the first French Pearl I ever had at Pegu Club was a fantastic drink; I'm not sure I can sort out all of the factors involved in that evaluation. I'm pretty sure that I'll like whatever Mr. Uyeda serves me, too, for similarly complicated reasons. Whether there's something wrong with that is up to you to decide.

I've not said there's anything wrong with it :huh: as what you've said in this paragraph is a matter of fact, hence why I said this earlier;

"An average drink served great can taste amazing, a great drink served badly will taste awful".


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I've always been a bit put off (perhaps "mystified" is a better way of putting it) by the practice of setting the "working bottles" for a cocktail on the bar with the labels facing the customer. It always struck me as a bit too brand conscious, as though I'm supposed to be impressed by how high class the ingredients all are.

Needless to say, this isn't something that really works in a bar where speed and volume are important.


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This is not to say that careful curation of ingredients isn't an important talent and skill. But it takes away some of the perceived aura of "mystical zen master of mixology" when you understand that the main reason your cocktail tastes so great is because the bartender used zillion dollar super-luxe ingredients and/or had spent several days methodically experimenting to arrive at a great proportional combination. So if you order a Sidecar from one bartender who uses $20 worth of ingredients and his Sidecar tastes better than the one you order from another bartender who uses $4 worth of ingredients, does that make the first bartender "better" than the second one? Does that mean that the distinctive shaking style the first bartender uses is the reason his drink tastes better? Maybe. But there's no way of knowing unless you eliminate all the other variables. These are just examples, of course, but they illustrate the reasons why we would like to eliminate these variables (among others).

I have to be honest, whilst I know where you're coming from in this paragraph, it's a bit ridiculous to be fair. Isn't what you describe what separates the best bartenders from the rest?

Talking about blind tasting and so on is a bit daft as well as we don't visit bars to blind taste cocktails unless we're attending a tasting. We go to specific bars at specific times to drink specific cocktails served by specific bartenders. All of which adds to the taste of the final product. The variables you speak of are determined by yourself at the end of the day...


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I've always been a bit put off (perhaps "mystified" is a better way of putting it) by the practice of setting the "working bottles" for a cocktail on the bar with the labels facing the customer. It always struck me as a bit too brand conscious, as though I'm supposed to be impressed by how high class the ingredients all are.

You're way too cynical Sam! :wink: There are a lot of people out there that have a passion for drinks but don't know about the vast number of spirits that are used in cocktails.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you go to these bars for these high-class spirits? If the bartender sets them on the bar does it REALLY make a difference to you? :huh:

It makes perfect sense to do this from a bar/bartender perspective as it means that only one trip is made to the backbar to gather all the bottles for a specific drink (unless the bar has all their bottles in a speedrail).

It also allows the guest to see exactly what is going into their drink and more often than not will allow the bartender and guest to converse with each other about the cocktail.

Ultimately it depends on the set-up of the bar though.

Needless to say, this isn't something that really works in a bar where speed and volume are important.

Speed and volume are important to all bars, empty seats don't put cash in the till after all, however it depends on the way the bar is set-up which will determine whether or not this a practical system.

I've worked in some pretty busy bars where I've been able to do this without affecting speed of service. One trip to the backbar, grab all the bottles, place them on my station, make the drink, take them all back...


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I've always been a bit put off (perhaps "mystified" is a better way of putting it) by the practice of setting the "working bottles" for a cocktail on the bar with the labels facing the customer. It always struck me as a bit too brand conscious, as though I'm supposed to be impressed by how high class the ingredients all are.

You're way too cynical Sam! :wink: There are a lot of people out there that have a passion for drinks but don't know about the vast number of spirits that are used in cocktails.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't you go to these bars for these high-class spirits? If the bartender sets them on the bar does it REALLY make a difference to you? :huh:

It makes perfect sense to do this from a bar/bartender perspective as it means that only one trip is made to the backbar to gather all the bottles for a specific drink (unless the bar has all their bottles in a speedrail).

I can see there being some point to displaying the bottle on the bar if it's a special bottle, or if it's something the bartender has been discussing with the customer. But I don't think I need to see bottles of Tanqueray and Noilly Prat set up before me on the bar when I order a Martini. It seems affected to me, and a bit like those commercials where the housewife holds up the bottle of salad dressing next to her face so everyone can get a good look at the branding while she tells her rapt family of salad dressing enthusiasts how delicious it is.

As to your other thought, just about every bar I visit has most of their most commonly-used spirits in the speedrail (and this is likely to include things such as Green Chartreuse, etc.) or, at most, the immediate back bar within reachable/replacable arm's reach. It's pretty rare that I'll order a drink that requires the bartender to fetch more than one bottle from the "special cabinet." So, at most, there is one bottle that isn't routinely put back whence it came immediately upon being used. I would think that the first principle of good bar design is that most of the most commonly used ingredients are within an arm's reach, that the next level of ingredients is within a few short steps, and that everything else is rarely used.

Again... if it's a slower time at the bar and we're having the kind of meandering mixologial and product discussions we all like having, the bottles might stick around. But it's by no means a regular thing.

Needless to say, this isn't something that really works in a bar where speed and volume are important.

Speed and volume are important to all bars, empty seats don't put cash in the till after all, however it depends on the way the bar is set-up which will determine whether or not this a practical system.

I'd suggest that speed and volume become less important if you're making up the difference with high prices. Many of these Tokyo microbars are charging a fortune for those drinks, and if you're paying that kind of money you want a bartender who is going to take his time. I don't think any bar where hand-carved ice balls is considered a regular part of service can be considered one where speed and volume have much performance.

I've worked in some pretty busy bars where I've been able to do this without affecting speed of service. One trip to the backbar, grab all the bottles, place them on my station, make the drink, take them all back...

With all due respect (and I mean this sincerely), if you had time to make a trip to the back bar to fetch bottles, display them all on the bar for the customer, make the drink, serve the drink and return the bottles to the back bar for every drink and every customer during the busy times... then these are not cocktail bars I would recognize as all that busy. There is simply no way that sort of thing would be possible at places such as Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club or Pegu Club on a Friday evening from an efficiency standpoint (not to mention physical exhaustion from all that back-and-forth). Those guys have got to average around a cocktail a minute during peak hours, if not more. Which is to say that there's busy and there's busy.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I can see there being some point to displaying the bottle on the bar if it's a special bottle, or if it's something the bartender has been discussing with the customer. But I don't think I need to see bottles of Tanqueray and Noilly Prat set up before me on the bar when I order a Martini. It seems affected to me, and a bit like those commercials where the housewife holds up the bottle of salad dressing next to her face so everyone can get a good look at the branding while she tells her rapt family of salad dressing enthusiasts how delicious it is.

As I mentioned earlier, maybe YOU don't need to see the bottles as you know about them all, but there are those that don't know and would like to see them. It's a practical way of working if the bar is set-up in such a way that it has to be done.

Using the Martini as an example; if the Tanqueray (let's say Tanq. 10 as an example) is kept on the backbar and Noilly Prat is in the fridge, it makes sense to turn round once, grab them both, and place them on your station. If you're selling loads then you'd have the Tanq. 10 in your rail but if you don't then they'd be on the backbar.

Ultimately, as I mentioned before, it's determined by the style of bar and its set-up. No more, no less. I know for a fact that this is a practical way of working that is used by some very good bartenders in very good bars all over the World, so there's something in this method.

As to your other thought, just about every bar I visit has most of their most commonly-used spirits in the speedrail (and this is likely to include things such as Green Chartreuse, etc.) or, at most, the immediate back bar within reachable/replacable arm's reach. It's pretty rare that I'll order a drink that requires the bartender to fetch more than one bottle from the "special cabinet." So, at most, there is one bottle that isn't routinely put back whence it came immediately upon being used. I would think that the first principle of good bar design is that most of the most commonly used ingredients are within an arm's reach, that the next level of ingredients is within a few short steps, and that everything else is rarely used.

That's why speedrails are called speedrails, preaching to the converted here dude... :wink:

Your assumption about bar design/set-up is correct. I personally try to implement a two foot rule on the bars I'm involved with, where everything should be within two foot of the bartender's reach/station, within reason of course.

I can think of a vast number of drinks that I assume would require more than one bottle from the backbar; it's just not practical to keep some bottlings in the rail, and there are some that need to be kept in the fridge.

Again... if it's a slower time at the bar and we're having the kind of meandering mixologial and product discussions we all like having, the bottles might stick around. But it's by no means a regular thing.

Again, this may be the case with yourself but for other people, in other bars, in other cities, it's a completely different story. You're forgetting that New York has an established cocktail culture along with the other cocktail capitals, but most other cities are still in the development stages.

I'd suggest that speed and volume become less important if you're making up the difference with high prices. Many of these Tokyo microbars are charging a fortune for those drinks, and if you're paying that kind of money you want a bartender who is going to take his time. I don't think any bar where hand-carved ice balls is considered a regular part of service can be considered one where speed and volume have much performance.

They are the exception to the rule, the parameters of their business are very different than most Western bars. There are bars in Tokyo where you'll find more bartenders than guests...

With all due respect (and I mean this sincerely), if you had time to make a trip to the back bar to fetch bottles, display them all on the bar for the customer, make the drink, serve the drink and return the bottles to the back bar for every drink and every customer during the busy times... then these are not cocktail bars I would recognize as all that busy. There is simply no way that sort of thing would be possible at places such as Flatiron Lounge, Clover Club or Pegu Club on a Friday evening from an efficiency standpoint (not to mention physical exhaustion from all that back-and-forth).

You've assumed something here, possibly because of the way I've described it (if so that's my mistake), but it's not a correct assumption;

A trip to the backbar wouldn't be a ten minute walk, it's a simple case of putting my arm/s behind me (no footsteps required) and grabbing the bottles I need, then placing them on the station I am working on (not setting up a display, simply placing them down so the label is forward facing, this can be done in one simple move), pouring the spirit, returning the bottles, then serving the drink. This is what I can do on the bar I work on just now, and it works perfectly.

Other bars have had room in the speedrail for practically everything, others have had little speedrail space, others have had individual backbars, others have had shared backbars, and so on, so forth.

I could get into all sorts of discussion about bar set-ups and the like, but the simple fact is what works for Flatiron/Clover Club/Pegu Club wouldn't necessarily work for Tender in Ginza, or Yatai in Aberdeen, or The Connaught in London. Likewise what works in these bars wouldn't necessarily work in theirs.

As mentioned earlier it solely depends on the way the bar is set-up and what purpose the bar is serving which will determine whether or not this a practical system. It works for some, it won't work for others.

Those guys have got to average around a cocktail a minute during peak hours, if not more. Which is to say that there's busy and there's busy.

Maybe I'm reading your post wrong, but there are busy cocktail bars outwith New York you know. Going further; Do they serve coffee? Wine? Food at the bar? Is it solely a bar? It a restaurant as well? How many covers? Barbacks? Table service? Cocktail waitstaff? And so on...

It's not just about how many cocktails you make a minute which determines whether or not you're busy...


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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The thing is, we all can also pour accurately using measuring glasses and jiggers, so we don't need to improve that aspect of our technique.

Just out of curiousity, how many have actually tested themselves using jiggers to see if they can pour accurately?

Likewise with free-pouring, do the sceptics really know the level of testing that is usually put in practice in a bar that has a quality free-pouring program in place?

I'm an advocate of both techniques, like most things they work if adhered to and practised properly, however it's a fallacy to believe that everyone using jiggers/measures is pouring accurately unless you are either practising regularly and/or taking real time and care to be as accurate as possible.

The thing that interests me regarding free-pouring versus measuring is the aspect of blind-tasting/variables that is brought up when it comes to other criteria of bartending (for example, the hard shake discussion in this thread). Could those that question free-pouring over measuring pick out a free-poured cocktail over a measured cocktail if blind tasted?


Edited by evo-lution (log)

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I suppose it all depends on what method you are using to freepour. If, for example, you have a shaker with marks on the inside (even if they're simply remembered scratches) then you're not truly freepouring. You're just using a different (and less accurate) method of visual measuring.

I've been over this ad infinitum, so I won't bother rehashing the various evidences and explanations I've given as to the near impossibility of freepouring matching jiggering for reproducible accuracy over a period of time. To sum up: Yes, it is possible to freepour quite accurately, although this becomes more and more difficult as the amounts become smaller and the ingredient list becomes larger. Freepouring a good Sidecar is one thing. Freepouring a proper Tantris Sidecar is another entirely. But a fresh, well trained and practiced bartender at the beginning of a shift in a mostly empty bar pouring from full bottles with identical pourspouts that he has trained on can certainly ace a freepouring test. Whether that same bartender would be able to freepour complex multiple-ingredient drinks with some ingredients being in amounts of 1/4 ounce or less in a busy loud bar at the end of a shift? With bottles filled to different levels? And maybe different pourspouts on some of the bottles because the owner changed to a less expensive brand? And some bottles being thick syrups? And fruit juices being in an entirely different kind of bottle? And all the other things that are true in most real-world bars? Extremely improbable to the point of being virtually impossible.

Of course you raise a valid point that people using jiggers can be sloppy and measure inconsistently. It is certainly possible for a freepouring bartender to be more consistent and accurate than a sloppy jiggering bartender. But if we have two equally skilled and conscientious bartenders pouring complex multiple ingredient "fine resolution" cocktails while tired and under time pressure... there's no way the jiggering bartender doesn't win that contest. There are simply fewer perceptual elements that can shift and introduce error when all you're doing is pouring a metal cone full of liquid and dumping it in a glass. Even something as simple as getting excited and having your pulse rate increase can throw off all kinds of unmeasured judgments. Have you even noticed how live recordings of uptempo music are most often noticeably faster than the studio versions? This isn't on purpose, and it is a very well-understood phenomenon. The same thing happens to a freepouring bartender who uses the "count method." This is only one example of many errors that can creep in when you freepour.

Some of this, however, depends on the setting and the style of mixology. If you're working in a small bar where you can work at a sedate pace and are only preparing, say, a dozen fairly simple three-ingredient classic "ratio drinks" an hour... then you are in a congenial situation for freepouring: not only are you in an environment that allows you to minimize many of the factors that lead to judgment errors in freepouring, but you're mixing a style of cocktail that is quite forgiving when it comes to absolute accuracy and you also have the time to taste and tweak if you didn't quite hit the mark.

It doesn't quite follow to taste one drink to see if you can decide whether or not it was freepoured. But I can think of some blind tests where I think it would be pretty easy to tell which bartender was the freepouring one and which was the jiggering one. I would have the bartenders using a variety of ingredients, bottles, fullness levels, pourspouts, etc.; they would be mixing around four different drinks, at least half of which would include a strong and easily-identifiable ingredient such as Green Chartreuse that needed to be added in precise and small amounts; they would be presented with the orders in a seemingly random fashion. If you wanted to go further... they would be timed; music would be playing at a loud level; people would be squeezing behind and around them at the test bar; and they would have to jump rope for 30 seconds in between each order.


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(I know we're pretty off-topic here so forgive me for continuing the detour.) I've always felt that a major advantage of jiggering was the separation of two different steps of the process: call them perhaps the "measuring" step and the "adding" step. When freepouring, one measures a volume while simultaneously adding that ingredient to the mix. This is both impossible to check (if, for example, you have this nagging feeling you hit the lemon juice a little too hard but aren't sure) and irreversible (you can't take it back out).

With jiggers the measuring is completed before the ingredient is added to the mix. If there's any uncertainty about the measurement, it can be easily assessed before it is added to the mix or, if it's off, adjusted.

(Since this is a Japanese Cocktail Culture topic, it may be worth observing that most Japanese bars don't use pourspouts but instead pour straight from the bottle. It's harder than a simple four count, or whatever, but I believe it allows for more accuracy and control. But I guess we've already talked about that.)


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I've always been a bit put off (perhaps "mystified" is a better way of putting it) by the practice of setting the "working bottles" for a cocktail on the bar with the labels facing the customer. It always struck me as a bit too brand conscious, as though I'm supposed to be impressed by how high class the ingredients all are.

Needless to say, this isn't something that really works in a bar where speed and volume are important.

Personally, I was a little put off to go to a "serious" cocktail bar (not at all busy) and having to flag the bartender down to see what rhum agricole he used in my drink. Since he made it nearly in front of me, it would have been nice to see the label and I don't think it would need to be "in your face".

Actually this whole thread has been bothering me but I haven't been able to completely gather my thoughts. I see the value in discussing other culture's crafts but it is kind of self-defeating to judge them from an external frame of reference. I see a lot of critical statements but think the open-minded attempts to understand the whole context get you further. From the bit of study I've done on Japanese pottery, I would hazard a guess that one might not understand Japanese cocktails without understanding tea ceremony, and won't understand tea ceremony without understanding pottery (and vice-versa), and likely won't understand Japanese pottery without some knowledge of sword polishing (e.g Honami Koetsu was a potter from a family of sword polishers).

And my personal opinion is that a totally objective evaluation of any food/drink technique is essentially impossible. You can probably learn something from a blind tasting but that is a far cry from enjoying a nice drink.


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To be clear (at least on my own behalf), I don't think anyone is suggesting that Japanese bartending isn't really cool. I think it's amazing. I simply question some of the factual claims that are made on its behalf.

Something discussion in a different thread has some relevancy to the point I am making here:

None of the foregoing should be taken as disrespect or lack of interest in Japanese-style bartending. Rather think of it as respect for accuracy. Philosophically, if Japanese bartenders would like to believe that stirring at 1.2 revolutions per second with a spoon held at 6 degrees off true while focusing their ki the bowl of the spoon results in a different kind of drink than one which is made by stirring at 0.71 revolutions per second with the spoon held entirely vertical while fousing ki on the shaft of the spoon... that's cool. And worth talking about. And these guys might make great cocktails. But the fact of those great cocktails doesn't make it true that "stirring techniques are crucial to binding flavors together" -- any more than all those great dishes made by cooks who believe that searing meat "seals in the juices" makes it true that searing has any effect on fluid retention in meat (it doesn't).

I agree with Sam, mostly. I think that a drink that is stirred with attention to detail will be better than a cocktail stirred with no attention to detail. A good amount of the difference is that someone who is concentrating on stirring probably took pains with the construction of said cocktail.

. . . I do believe that artisans or artisan traditions who spend a lot of time coming up with or executing pseudomystical mumbojumbo around what it is that they're doing, as a general rule of thumb, tend to pay very close attention to the work they're doing and may add extra steps that serve to enhance quality (both usually as a result of jumping through whatever pseudomystical mumbojumbo hoops need to be jumped through). This quite often produces a superior result.

The difficulty comes when the artisan or artisan tradition would like to attribute the superior result to the pseudomystical mumbojumbo rather than the extra attention and care, or some side-effect of the pseudomystical mumbojumbo. It is all the more difficult when the pseudomystical mumbojumbo may consist of 25 elements, but only 4 of those things are actually responsible for the increase in quality. And it is even more difficult when some of the things that contribute to higher quality are actually a side-effect of the pseudomystical mumbojumbo rather than part of the pseudomystical mumbojumbo dogma (e.g., holding the spoon at a certain angle and focusing ki on the bowl of the spoon might be the pseudomystical mumbojumbo dogma, but "unintentional side-effects" of this extra care such as a slower stirring speed or a precisely focused attention to dilution might be what really makes the drink better when the pseudomystical mumbojumbo technique is mastered).

An unfortunate element of this discussion is the fact that what I refer to as "pseudomystical mumbojumbo" seems to be a major historical feature of Japanese artisan traditions (I should point out that my own field as a classical musician and opera singer is full of pseudomystical mumbojumbo that I follow as much as anyone, so the term is not meant as disrespectful). This is whence come ideas such as "stirring techniques are crucial to binding flavors together," which would have us believe that the two techniques I jokingly describe above would produce markedly different "bindings of flavor" and therefore markedly different end results. It seems better to me to say simply that these elements are all part of the theater and tradition that has evolved into a certain kind of Japanese bartending and bartending philosophy, that cool stirring techniques are cool, that paying a lot of attention to your stirring technique can have a beneficial effect, that being in the presence of this style of bartending (or other styles) can enhance the enjoyment and perceived quality of the cocktails so produced, and that it doesn't have to be true that "stirring techniques are crucial to binding flavors together" or that the hard shake has an exceptional ability to create bubbles that have a unique ability to "act as a cushion preventing one's tongue from direct contact with the harshness of the ingredients and liquor, leading to a smoother taste" and an exponentially better cocktail.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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I suppose it all depends on what method you are using to freepour. If, for example, you have a shaker with marks on the inside (even if they're simply remembered scratches) then you're not truly freepouring. You're just using a different (and less accurate) method of visual measuring.

As you say, this is not freepouring so this isn't what I was talking about.

I've been over this ad infinitum, so I won't bother rehashing the various evidences and explanations I've given as to the near impossibility of freepouring matching jiggering for reproducible accuracy over a period of time. To sum up: Yes, it is possible to freepour quite accurately, although this becomes more and more difficult as the amounts become smaller and the ingredient list becomes larger. Freepouring a good Sidecar is one thing. Freepouring a proper Tantris Sidecar is another entirely. But a fresh, well trained and practiced bartender at the beginning of a shift in a mostly empty bar pouring from full bottles with identical pourspouts that he has trained on can certainly ace a freepouring test. Whether that same bartender would be able to freepour complex multiple-ingredient drinks with some ingredients being in amounts of 1/4 ounce or less in a busy loud bar at the end of a shift? With bottles filled to different levels? And maybe different pourspouts on some of the bottles because the owner changed to a less expensive brand? And some bottles being thick syrups? And fruit juices being in an entirely different kind of bottle? And all the other things that are true in most real-world bars? Extremely improbable to the point of being virtually impossible.

You're looking at it with a very simplistic view to be honest, I'm intirgued to know why a bartender couldn't accurately freepour 1/4 or 1/2 ounces? I'm also intrigued to know if you'd have a problem with freepouring bars measuring smaller amounts but freepouring the rest?!?

A good freepouring bar will have in place a top quality program (I'm not sure if you've ever came across one before as you're being very?). A top qulaity freepouring bar would not have different pourspouts, so that's an invalid point. They'd also practice regularly with bottles filled to varying levels, and using liquidss of varying viscosity, fruit juices are generally kept in similar bottles however freepouring with store&pours and the like can be practised as well.

A freepouring bar is a real World bar, believe it or not. GThe same mistakes that shappen in these happen in every measuring bar as well. Again, it's a fallacy to think that measuring is faultless or less likely to be faultless. Simply put, it comes down to the individual more than anything.

Again I ask the question of those on here that are dead against freepouring if they've ever practised their measuring technique using jiggers?!?

And I also have to ask how some of these factors do not effect a bartender that is measuring? If anything it could be argued that a measuring bartender is likely to be more lackadaisical as they have more confidence on the pour and aren't focusing 100%. The answer to that is that it comes down to the individual again though...

*Just to clarify, I'm not saying you're right or wrong but just asking these questions because you're talking very matter of fact yet the points you're putting across to back up what you're saying don't fit and are hollow to be perfectly fair.

Of course you raise a valid point that people using jiggers can be sloppy and measure inconsistently. It is certainly possible for a freepouring bartender to be more consistent and accurate than a sloppy jiggering bartender. But if we have two equally skilled and conscientious bartenders pouring complex multiple ingredient "fine resolution" cocktails while tired and under time pressure... there's no way the jiggering bartender doesn't win that contest. There are simply fewer perceptual elements that can shift and introduce error when all you're doing is pouring a metal cone full of liquid and dumping it in a glass. Even something as simple as getting excited and having your pulse rate increase can throw off all kinds of unmeasured judgments. Have you even noticed how live recordings of uptempo music are most often noticeably faster than the studio versions? This isn't on purpose, and it is a very well-understood phenomenon. The same thing happens to a freepouring bartender who uses the "count method." This is only one example of many errors that can creep in when you freepour.

You say there's no way a freepouring bartender could win the 'contest' but what makes you say that? I'm curious to know what you've done/experienced by way of testing to make you so sure of this...

All the things that would make a freepouring bartender make a mistake would be there to make a measuring bartender mess up as well.

As for the point regarding the count method, like it or not, measuring bartenders are also counting, so the likelihood of messing up is just as high.

Some of this, however, depends on the setting and the style of mixology. If you're working in a small bar where you can work at a sedate pace and are only preparing, say, a dozen fairly simple three-ingredient classic "ratio drinks" an hour... then you are in a congenial situation for freepouring: not only are you in an environment that allows you to minimize many of the factors that lead to judgment errors in freepouring, but you're mixing a style of cocktail that is quite forgiving when it comes to absolute accuracy and you also have the time to taste and tweak if you didn't quite hit the mark.

Absolutely agree, as I've mentioned earlier I'm an advocate of both methods, it's simply a case of implementing a system that works for that specific venue.

It doesn't quite follow to taste one drink to see if you can decide whether or not it was freepoured. But I can think of some blind tests where I think it would be pretty easy to tell which bartender was the freepouring one and which was the jiggering one. I would have the bartenders using a variety of ingredients, bottles, fullness levels, pourspouts, etc.; they would be mixing around four different drinks, at least half of which would include a strong and easily-identifiable ingredient such as Green Chartreuse that needed to be added in precise and small amounts; they would be presented with the orders in a seemingly random fashion. If you wanted to go further... they would be timed; music would be playing at a loud level; people would be squeezing behind and around them at the test bar; and they would have to jump rope for 30 seconds in between each order.

I have to wholeheartedly disagree with the first sentence as I find it hypocritical to question the hard-shake and ask whether a drink made using that method could be picked out in a blind-tasting, but for you to then advocate measuring over freepouring and say that it doesn't follow to be able to pick out a freepoured drink over a measured drink in a blind-tasting? :huh: That just doesn't make sense to me, the rules should be the same as we're ultimately talking about the taste of the end product...

A big influence of the taste of a cocktail (in my opinion) is the experience surrounding it. The hard-shake adds to a drink as it's alleged to do something that a regular shake doesn't. Instantly it's got a mystique and intrigue, so if it's Kazuo Ueda making the drink then we believe we're going to get something special. Likewise if it's Stanislav Vadrna, we have an expectation as he worked under this mysterious Japanese bartender. Now we have the bartenders in Seattle who've been taught some secrets from Japan by both Stan and Kazuo, so instantly we believe they've learnt a secretive way to make the perfect cocktail. Whether or not it's true, I'll let the story improve the taste of the drink I'm making, whether we like it or not it does make a difference, that's why we're here posting on egullet.

In much the same way that the best Mai Tai I've ever had was the one that used some of the last remaining Wray & Nephew 17yo in the World, or those that've been lucky enough to imbibe a Brandy Crusta made with original Boker's Bitters, or those that've had Peter Dorelli's Martini in the American Bar at the Savoy, or... You get the point. :wink:

I don't want to blind-taste any of these drinks. That wouldn't give me a full appreciation of the drink in my hand. I want the experience. Every single lastdrop of it. And you can add a drink that's been hard-shaken by Kazuo Ueda to that list.


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You bring up some interesting questions, Adam. Rather than try to address all of them point-by-point, perhaps I can articulate some of my views on freepouring. (Admins: If you would like to split this to a different thread, please do and feel free to edit my post accordingly - slk).

I believe we both agree that "freepouring" can be defined as some way of portioning the constituents for a cocktail without any measurement or reference to visual landmarks. This is to say that a freepouring bartender ought to be able to pour accurately even if completely blinded from seeing the mixing vessel.

Understanding the foregoing there is a useful way that we can characterize the difference between freepouring and jiggering: jiggering bartenders are making measurements and freepouring bartenders are making judgments. The freepouring bartenders may be making very accurate judgments (I'll adress that infra), but they are judgements and not measurements nevertheless. When we measure something, we "ascertain the quantity of a unit of material via calculated comparison with respect to a standard." If there is no objective standard and no means of directly making a direct comparison of the quantity of the material with respect to that standard, then one is not measuring.

Now. Measuring is not always the easiest thing in the world. Most importantly, one has to have a reliable objective standard, and one must do the comparison properly. With respect to jiggering, one must consistently fill the jigger to the top with no underpour or overspill. This isn't necessarily the easiest thing in the world, but it isn't rocket science either. Most anyone can be readily trained to jigger accurately in all conditions with a very low percent of error. They only need to be reminded to make sure they hold the jigger straight, fill it to the top by the side of the mixing tin so that no overpour goes into the tin, and then to dump the jigger out into the mixing tin without spilling. The techniques for this are quite simple to learn, master and maintain. And a properly filled jigger will always be a properly filled jigger.

So, let's turn our attention to freepouring. As I said before, this is a judgment, not a measurement. Reduced to its most basic level, a freepouring bartender is using some methodology of judging when he thinks he has poured a certain amount of liquid. There are various techniques that freepouring bartenders employ to help them make these judgments more accurately -- most of these some variant on the "count system" using beats, words, numbers, etc. This is a way of substituting a subjective standard for an objective standard, and then measuring against that subjective standard in order to make the judgment. It is possible with a great deal of regular and intensive training to become quite accurate at freepouring using these techniques and under the right conditions. How many freepouring bartenders there are out there who do accuracy competitions, practice before every shift using a variety of bottles, own their own testing equipment so they can practice at home, etc. in order to attain and maintain this level of accuracy is a serious question, however. And, I hasten to point out, this investment of time and training is all in order to approach the reproducable accuracy of a jiggering bartender.

Why did I say "under the right conditions" above? One of the difficulties when one is judging and using that subjective standard, is that the subjective standard can be a moving target. A 1 ounce jigger will always hold 1 ounce of liquid when it is filled to the top. An internal two count, however, will not always take the same amount of time. The duration of that two count will be influenced by external conditions. This is a well understood psychological phenomenon. Let me make an example from my own principal field: Certain comic operas are frequently staged with the performers running about the stage (young lovers chased by an angry father, etc.), and then there will be a pause in the music while something happens, and the music resumes in a new section at a faster tempo. Very often, and especially once the show is on the stage before the public, there is the significant danger that the singers will start the new section far too fast -- although this frequently doesn't become apparent to them until the major trainwreck later in the piece when everyone runs into some passages that they can't execute at that tempo. This, I should hasten to point out, is not an amateur mistake -- it happens occasionally at the highest levels. It happens less frequently at the highest levels because those singers are trained to take the tempo from a more objective measure: they look at the conductor. Why does this happen? It happens because when the body is full of adrenalin and the pulse is racing and one has been engaged in a lot of frantic movement around the stage, it affects the performers' subjective sense of tempo. Of course, many performers know about this phenomenon and attempt to compensate by deliberately forcing themselves to choose a tempo that seems slower than the one they feel they want to choose in the moment. This can lead to mistakes in the other direction or, more frustratingly, doesn't seem to make much difference and the tempo still ends up too fast. There are all kinds of things that can affect our internal judgment of tempo. This is the reason, for example, that we often begin to walk out of our natural stride in time with the music when listening to music with a strong and persuasive beat. I have, at various times today depending on what I was doing and where I was, timed myself saying "elephant" mentally twenty times in a row. My longest count took 50% longer than my shortest one.

Tempo, meanwhile, is only one of many judgments that can be hugely affected by external conditions. And this is the rub: When we practice and refine judgement skills, these skills tend to be at their sharpest when the performance environment is similar to the practice environment. Another interesting example may be found among skilled amateur darts players. It's no secret that most darts playing on this level is conducted at the neighborhood pub and fueled with a pint or three. What's interesting is that the performance of these darts players actually goes down when they play cold sober. Why? Because they developed and practiced the judgement and skills under the influence of a pint or three, and when the blood alcohol wasn't there the external environment changed and threw off their judgement. This is the reason I suggested that a test of freepouring accuracy be conducted in an environment that, to the greatest extent possible, reproduced the environment and conditions of a busy bar during the rush. There really isn't much reason to care if someone can freepour down to a milliliter in the privacy of his own kitchen if he can't do it when they're three deep on Friday night. It's also the reason I suggested that bartenders working in quiet bars with a relaxed pace and lots of time to devote to each customer should be able to freepour quite accurately: because the external conditions are condusive to reproducibly accurate judgements. There is, however, a meaningful question as to what advantages, if any, freepouring offers in such an environment (I'll adress that infra).

Meanwhile, in addition to the influence of the external environment upon the subjective standard of measurement, there are other possible sources of error to consider. The brand of pourspout will make a difference, as will whether they are all the same brand in the bar (not to mention that seldom-used and especially expensive spirits are unlikely to have a pourspout at all). The technique as to when the bartender starts counting and when he stops the flow of liquid versus his internal system of measurement. The temperature and viscosity of the liquids. The fullness of the various bottles. The shape of the various bottles. The angle at which the bottles are held. These things, and more, are all likely to have an affect on how much liquid ends up in the mixing glass following a certain "count." Now, of course it is possible for a conscientious bar to control for these variables as much as possible, investing serious managerial oversight and training resources devoted exclusively to freepouring accuracy. These are presumably the "top quality freepouring bars" to which you refer. And it is possible for conscientious and dedicated bartenders to train to account for all these variables as much as possible. But it is equally true that the more opportunities there are for error, the more error there is likely to be. A jiggering bartender has around three main sources of potential error: (1) is he holding the jigger straight to the side of the mixing tin; (2) did he fill the jigger all the way to the top; and (3) did he dump out the entire jigger into the mixing tin. A freepouring bartender has many more sources of potential error.

It is possible that some freepouring obsessive who trains intensively and constantly for a wide variety of condidions and with a wide variety of equipment, and who has a truly exceptional ability to standardize whatever "subjective standard" he uses to make his judgments in a wide variety of environments could be very accurate. I have my doubts as to just how many such bartenders exist (I find that even the proudest freepouring bartenders frequently are also those who believe fervently in tasting and "adjusting" ever cocktail they make). But, more to the point, these feepouring OCD savants are doing all these things in order to approach a basic level of accuracy that is taken for granted by even a beginning jiggering bartender. But I think it's reasonable to ask why it's worth going to all that trouble.

Just what are the advantages of freepouring anyway? Style? Maybe, I guess. Speed is the usual reason given. The problem is that, for all the reasons outlined above and more, freepouring accuracy is likely to be at its very worst during the times when speed is needed the most. And, on top of that, we have the evidence of jiggering bartenders such as Phil Ward who are as fast as any freepouring bartender in the business. Meanwhile, at small quiet bars where the likes of Uyeda, et al. ply their trade (mostly making drinks that are quite tolerant of a certain amount of pouring error, I should hasten to add) it's unclear what advantage there is to freepouring. It certainly wouldn't take them any longer to make the cocktail if they used jiggers.


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Newsflash: Greg Boehm at Mudpuddle Books and cocktailkingdom.com is announcing a two-day event on Japanese bartending in NY hosted by none other than Kazuo Uyeda. In addition, Mudpuddle is publishing an English translation of Uyeda's book, Cocktail Technique.

It's May 3 & 4 at Hiro Ballroom, and I'm happy to announce that I'll be the Society's correspondent covering the event. Much more information to follow. Meanwhile, I'll start thinking about questions for Greg, Uyeda, and the participants -- with your help, of course. Where to start?


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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