Using a jigger? You’re doing it wrong.


“Making cocktails is a lot more like baking than it is like cooking.” I hear this all the time from bartenders, the point being that precise measurement is vital to making balanced drinks. A bit too much citrus, too little vermouth, and your finely crafted, expensive cocktail isn’t is as good as it should be. This is why we encourage bartenders and home mixologists to use a jigger. It’s more consistent and delivers better results than “free-pouring” as the bartending academies instruct.

But at the heart of this adage is a lie. We pat ourselves on the back saying we’re as precise as pastry chefs, without acknowledging the obvious fact: Pastry chefs know better than to measure by volume. Volume is inconsistent. Is your jigger held perfectly level? Do you pour to the meniscus every time? Have you taken into account the effects of humidity and elevation on the local atmospheric pressure? Is the Manhattan you make in New Orleans identical to the one you make in Denver? No, it is not, and it’s time for us to catch up with our flour-dusted friends in the kitchen. It’s time to start weighing our cocktails.

This requires some adjustment, but it can be done. I’ve already seen it accomplished in some coffee houses, where baristas measure their water in grams. I’ve seen wine poured this way. Mixology is lagging behind. As hard as we’ve worked to get people to use jiggers, it’s time to throw them away and replace them with digital scales.

It’s a simple set-up, really, using no more space on the bar than a set of jiggers. Place the shaker or mixing glass on the scale and tare it to zero. Pour in the first ingredient to the desired weight, then tare again. Proceed until all the ingredients have been added.

Measuring by weight entails rewriting our recipes. Take the Last Word, for example, a cocktail in which the right balance of flavors is crucial. Here’s the recipe in the out-dated, traditional form:

3/4 oz gin
3/4 oz Chartreuse
3/4 oz maraschino liqueur
3/4 oz lime juice

Since each of these ingredients has a different density, converting the Last Word into a weight-based recipe looks like this:

17 g gin
19 g Chartreuse liqueur
22 g maraschino
21 g lime juice

Yes, this is harder to remember than the volume-based recipe with its convenient equal parts, but keeping an encyclopedia of obscure data in one’s memory is part of the bartender’s art. With a little practice the adjustment comes easily.

Another benefit of weight-based bartending is that it allows for objective quality control. The finished cocktail can be weighed after being poured into the glass to make sure that it has been diluted by the proper amount, eliminating the inconsistency of testing by taste. The finished Last Word, for example, should weigh between 105-115 grams. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get served.

Weight-based bartending also allows us to eliminate that embarrassment to the craft, “the dash.” Dashes of bitters are terribly inconsistent, varying with the amount of bitters left in the bottle, the size of the hole in the cap, and the hand of the individual bartender. Mixologists, save your sprezzatura for your wardrobe! By setting a standard — I suggest .33 grams — we can finally get this right. Thus the previously mentioned Manhattan can now be made like this:

53 g rye whiskey
29 g sweet vermouth
.66 g Angostura bitters

See, it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

A final reason to adopt this system is that it will ease communication between those of us accustomed to measuring in fluid ounces and those who use the metric system. Sharing recipes between the U.S. and Europe requires conversion, which is rarely done with any precision. Measuring by weight solves the problem by creating a universal standard. Just remember: “Dram for dram, a gram’s a gram.”

I don’t doubt that measuring drinks with gram scales will initially be met with resistance, but eventually it will prevail on the merits. Within five years, we will look at bartenders using jiggers the way we now look at bartenders free-pouring, and think maybe we should just have a beer instead of taking our chances on a cocktail. That is why starting today, April 1, all recipes on this site will henceforth be given in grams instead of ounces. I hope that the rest of the industry will follow suit and finally give our craft the precision it deserves.


10 thoughts on “Using a jigger? You’re doing it wrong.”

  1. Yes. I do believe we had a gram scale back at the Occidental…I’ve been doing it right all along suckers.

  2. I don’t think it is practical when it comes to applying it in real life. Also each brand has its own specifci weight, no rye whiskey weights as much as the other, leave alone moving into the liqueur reign even along the same flavor.
    The use of grams in recipes has been used back in Europe and in South American traditional bartending schools back from 1920’s to 1970’s. a lot of recipes came in grams, even though they measure by eye and they have no scales.
    Question: what is the “effects of humidity and elevation on the local atmospheric pressure?” how much will affect the space a liquid occupies with the minute variations on PSI once the liquid is in the jigger?
    I prefer free pouring and in house training. Most bartenders use jiggers wrongly filling them to random heights hence not serving its purpose. I wish there were more “exacto pour” than jiggers.

  3. april fools or not there is merit to the idea but probably not for cocktails.

    you can use a scale to measure the dissolved gas added to carbonated cocktails. i measure the dissolved gas i add to the magnum bottles i carbonate in.

    i’ve also used a scale as opposed to a volume measure to micro blend very small volumes of distillates i’ve made for trial tastings.

    you can use a scale plus a volume measurement to measure sugar content in a very small sample of a rare liqueur or a syrup you’ve lost track of. this works because density is just mass/volume. its quick and useful for volumes too small to be measured with a hydrometer.

    when making liqueurs, syrups, or what not, a mass of sugar can be converted to a volume measure to help keep all your averages straight. sucrose’s density 1.57 times that of water so we can easily figure out how much the sugar will displace volumetrically. just divide the mass by 1.57 and you’ve got the volume in milliliters.

    cheers! -stephen

  4. Being a staunch supporter of the English system of weights and measures, I’d prefer to see you switch to ounces of weight, rather than grams. :-p

  5. Hmmm April fool or not, oz IS a unit of weight, so would you be meaning fluid oz when you write the last word recipe?

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