July 10, 2017

Why is Free-Pouring so entwined in bartending mythology?

Is there math or science behind the bigger story to counter the heart felt passion of Free-Pouring!

Whichever side of the debate you’re on... it’s fair to say that Free Pouring involves passion and heart whereas Jiggering (figuring) is more a discussion confined to the library of the mind!

So putting this aside let’s look at some of the why before we get into the math and science!

Free Pouring Passion

There’s something riveting watching a bartender doing their thing... almost the equivalent of a martial arts “pouring carta” or “liquid tai chi “ ; connecting mixologist and guest in a sublime moment of magic!

The magic comprises 3 distinct elements:

Mastery/Respect: Like a London cabbie passes the “Knowledge”; bartenders demonstrate mastery through bottles via liquids.

Dexterity: Conductors lead orchestras: so bartenders twirl the wrist, execute bottle cuts and bottle bounce to affirm their nuanced control over the “flow de vie”.

Ring Mastery: Step right up... watch the show… see the bartender defy gravity, be amazed by the control of flame, unbridled ice taming, shaking and writhing … delivering to you, the thirsty guest, a liquid exception in a glass!

When Free-Pouring is considered within this context it’s hard for science to compete!

The Science

So what’s the central tenant anchoring the Free-Pouring thought process?

The answer comes down to a simple number 3.

The magic of 3, or the 3 seconds taken to pour 1 shot (nip or serve) of alcohol via a traditional speed pourer!

The science is a combination of gravity, airflow and liquid to create a form of mathematical absolutism... or so we’re lead to believe!

Based on the 3 count system, let’s break time into discrete volume equivalents.

Time Volume
.5 Second  5 mL or ⅙ Oz
 1 Seconds  10 mL or ⅓ Oz
 2 Seconds  20 mL or ⅔ Oz
 3 Seconds  30 mL or 1 Oz


Observation: As 3 is an odd number, not divisible by any other number other than itself or 1, we will see some rather weird fractional times to equate to discrete dispensing amounts.

Question: How do the above times relate to what constitutes a shot or serve of alcohol?

Answer: Doesn't that depend on one’s country or jurisdiction?

Legislative Pouring Volumes

There are different accepted international serves, it’s quite staggering!

See below via geographic area, standard pouring volumes with arising time equivalents. (Based on the 3 second count)

Country Standard Serve Pouring Time (Seconds)
Europe   20 mL  2
Europe   40 mL  4
United Kingdom   25 mL  2.5
United Kingdom   35 mL  3.5
United Kingdom   50 mL  5
 USA / Canada   ½ Oz  1.5
USA / Canada   ¾ Oz  1.75
USA / Canada   1 Oz  3
USA / Canada   1¼ Oz  3.75
USA / Canada   1½ Oz  4.5
Australia / New Zealand / Asia   15 mL  1.5
Australia / New Zealand / Asia  30 mL  3


OK, now let’s focus on how we can track or count time?

Tracking Time

Bartenders hone their 1, 2 and 3 second pouring via practice. Interestingly there’s a correlation within the bartending community of Free-Pouring accuracy and sexual prowess. At a guess maybe it’s like liquid succumbing to mastery... Please add your own thoughts here.

Some of the widely accredited techniques for maintaining Free-Poring accuracy.

    1. Counting according to internal syncopation... varies from person to person.
    2. Muscle memory... Training repeatedly using a bartender pour test kit (BarCheck™)... where one feels the time to mentally imagine a pouring volume.

    This all makes sense, right... except what happens to accuracy when a bartender is momentarily distracted or tired? Based on the figures above, doesn’t a blink of the eye, representing a part of 1 second, equate to pouring 5 mL or ⅙ Oz of alcohol! If this volume is then over-poured could this become somewhat problematic, particularly when replicated by hundreds of drinks a night!


    Viscosity: is the notion that volume flow rates change when a spirit or liquid is less runny than say the consistency of vodka... due to:

    1. Sugar Content
    2. Cream or milk content

    Viscosity is also affected by factors such as heat and cold... the warmer a liquid the runnier it is, the colder a liquid the slower it runs!

    Wouldn't this suggest that one’s Free-Poring calculations must change to accommodate for the differences of viscosity? Is there a formula or technique to precisely work this out?

    If there is, it’s probably safer to call it guessing!


    Timing works if the speed which liquid traverses through a speed pourer (see below) is uniform. What happens to liquid flow rates when a bottle is tilted, does the flow rate alter by the remaining volume of liquid and/or air left in a bottle? Does, air pressure and gravity impact pour flow, what about temperature and altitude?

    Speed Pourers

    Speed Pourers are the tools to pour alcohol from a bottle into some sort of receiving or serving vessel.  And like every other multi-dimensional aspect to Free-Pouring they’re made in different factories with different manufacturing techniques, material variations, dimensions. Each variation changing the speed of liquid flow rates!

    Check out some of the examples below… pretty easy to see how the pour out points or mouths vary in diameter.

    Its all too Confusing... Better use a Jigger and a better Speed Pourer

    It’s unbelievable how many related and unrelated variables there are to dispensing alcohol consistency!

    There’s too much at stake to focus on trying to be consistently accurate by imagining the outcome desired.

    To save a whole lot of pain, over-pouring, second guessing, compliance issues... just invest in an accurate better tools.

    Yes, using a jigger is really boring... however if the desired outcome is a guest re-ordering another drink, game over!

    Go Figure with a Jigger!


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