How To Pour Liquor Like A Champ: A Beginner's Guide

How To Pour Liquor Like A Champ: A Beginner's Guide

Professional barman pouring blue liquor from bottle into cocktail shake

Have you ever seen a bartender throw some bottles in the air and expertly catch them before pouring them into your glass? Pouring liquor is as easy as gripping the bottle by the neck and turning it upside down, but is that all there is to it?

If you’re an aspiring bartender who wants to learn all the techniques, you have to master the basics starting with how to pour liquor. Do it properly and you’ll become a professional in no time.

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What You’ll Need

How to Execute Free Pouring

The jigger is one of the tools mostly used by a bartender to measure alcohol accurately. But sometimes, a bartender or mixologist can be seen directly pouring the liquor straight into the shaker tin or glass. This technique is called a free pour. 

Some of the steps below will have multiple options. All you have to do is to pick one option and perform the six steps altogether.

Step 1: Assemble the dummy bottle

Practice the pouring technique with water. Don’t waste your liquor!

  1. Fill an empty liquor bottle with water. 
  2. Attach the spout or liquor pourer

Step 2: Choose a counting system 

The free pour follows the famous count system done by bartenders mentally. Some do it with the clock counting speed while others follow the dance counting speed. 

How To Pour Liquor Like A Champ: A Beginner's Guide

Option A.) Clock speed - This is done with one one thousand, two one thousand, and so on. Another familiar version is using the Mississippi. Every count measures ½ ounce so two counts are equivalent to one ounce. The only downside of this system is that it starts immediately with ½ ounce.

Option B.) Dance speed - To remedy the problem of the first system, dance counting should be considered. When you dance, the counting is faster to follow the rhythm of the song being danced to, but it’s really just cutting one clock count into half. So if you do the math, one dance count is equal to ¼ ounce and one whole ounce is 4 counts. 

    Step 3: Decide what grip to do

    Every bartender has their preference of how to grip a liquor bottle. This depends on which one they’re most comfortable doing. Keep in mind that each grip will be done by the neck as this secures the bottle well. Find the one that works best for you!

    How to pour liquor
    Option A.) Standard grip - This is the most common grip since you probably do this to almost everything you grab such as a water bottle or a glass. 
      1. You take the bottle by the neck as you would when you’re drinking directly from it.
      2. Your fingers must be spread out with the index and thumb surrounding the neck, while the rest extends to the bottle’s body. 
      3. A variation would be to tuck the neck in between the ring finger and middle finger. In other words, the ring finger and pinky will support the bottle’s weight and are on the other side of the bottle. 
      Option B.) Reverse grip - It’s similar to the standard grip, but the difference lies in the direction when turning the bottle upside down. This grip helps you to release the pressure from your hand from doing the same motion as the standard grip every time. 
        1. Hold the bottle by the neck just like with the standard pour. 
        2. As you turn the bottle upside down, roll your arm the other way. 
        Option C.) Milking grip - It is named as such because the bottle is held as if you’re milking a cow. Like the previous one, transitioning to this grip every once in a while helps your wrist to not hurt as much. 
          1. Get your palm to face down.
          2. Then turn counterclockwise until the palm faces the right side of the table with the bottle beside it. 
          3. Grip the bottle by the neck then get ready to pour liquor. 

          Step 4: Pouring

          After positioning your hand on the bottle, it’s time to fill the glass with the liquor. 

          1. Turn the bottle upside down, not at an angle. This ensures a steady flow. 
          2. Perform the chosen count system and base it with an ingredient’s measurement in a recipe. 

          Step 5: Cutting the liquor 

          After the last count, it’s time to stop or cut the liquor. This can be done in two ways:

          Option A.) Swish / Curl motion
            1. Slowly swish the bottle as you turn it upright, letting any extra drips to slide down the spout. 
            2. Place the bottle back on the table. 
            Option B.) Jolt motion
              1. Quickly shake the bottle down once to stop the pouring, then turn the bottle upright.
              2. If you intend to fill another glass, after the jolt, point the spout to the other glass. Afterward, position it upright then place it on the table. 

              Step 6: Verifying the measurement

              To make sure that you’ve done the technique right, you can check the measured liquor with a jigger. This step is only applicable during practice.  

              How to pour liquor
              1. Transfer the newly poured liquor into a jigger.
              2. Check if it fills up to the 1-ounce line if you’ve counted for 1 ounce and so on.

              Why Free Pour?

              • Efficient. If you don’t bother grabbing the jigger and using it, you’ll be faster in pouring the liquor, given that you know how to execute the technique properly. It will speed things up so you can create cocktails swiftly and subsequently, serve more customers in a shorter time. 
              • Looks cool. Bartenders have a lot of tricks up their sleeves and these exhibit being professional as it shows that the bartender is highly skilled in their craft. Being able to free pour also looks undeniably cool and makes one feel more confident and keeps the momentum going.
              • Good practice. Even if you prefer to use a jigger, one way or another, you’re going to have to learn how to free pour. This technique will come in handy if there’s no jigger on hand. Besides, it is very easy to do, and mastering it will allow you to perform even more difficult pouring techniques, the kinds seen in bartending shows and competitions.
              • Cuts cleaning time. Jiggers are among the tools that must be cleaned after service hours. Since free pouring doesn’t require a jigger, there will be fewer tools to clean, allowing you to do other things and close up the bar earlier.
              • Lets you multitask. Free pouring only requires one hand. So, you can use the other hand to grab a glass or an ingredient. You can even use it to grab another bottle and now you’re doing what’s called a double pour. Bartenders must have speed, and multitasking is one way to save time.

              Other Liquor Pouring Techniques

              There are countless other pouring techniques in bartending. But they require a higher level of expertise. If you’re a beginner, you can try these instead. 

              Double pour
              • Finger measuring - Manually measure the liquor by placing a finger horizontally at the base of the glass and fill it until it reaches the top of the finger. This should be roughly 2 ounces. It may be simple but it wouldn’t be as accurate because glasses and fingers can have different sizes.
              • Candle light - Some glasses have lines usually at the bottom, formed during manufacturing. If a candle is lit beside the glass, those lines will be visible and can serve as measuring lines. One constraint of this technique is that not all glasses have the lines. It also requires more effort in setting up the candle.
              • Long pour - This is basically the standard pour but the bottle is lifted higher during the pour. It adds aesthetics to the process and makes it seem like you’re doing a generous pour to engage the customer in the drink. 
              • Double pour - As mentioned previously, you can use both hands to grip two bottles and perform the standard pour simultaneously. 

              Tips for Learning Free Pouring

              • Practice using wine glasses with pour lines - To save time from verifying the measurement with a jigger, you can pour the liquor into a wine glass with pour lines. That way, you’ll immediately know if you got it right. 
              • Don’t cover the pourer’s hole - A liquor pourer has two holes, the opening of the spout and the bottom of the spout. The latter should not be covered as this interrupts the steady flow of the liquor, altering the measurement.
              • Make well drinks - If you want to practice with actual alcohol, you can make well drinks because they don’t use expensive ingredients. You also get to enjoy them afterward. 
              • Don’t bump the bottles - When doing a double pour, be careful as to not bump the bottles. A bartender must be graceful in every action they do so as not to cause accidents in the bar.
              • Use metal spouts - This kind of liquor pourer is designed to dispense a uniform flow whereas plastic ones can be more generous. 

              Free Pouring Trivia

              While free pouring is an excellent skill for bartenders, it is illegal to perform in some countries like Australia and the United Kingdom. They have a law which states that liquors such as but not limited to gin, rum, and whiskey, are set out in specific weights and measures legislation.

              This means that these alcohols must only be served in specified quantities and experimenting with the amount is not allowed. So, bartenders and bar owners should be aware of the minimum measures needed in serving the drinks.


              If you’re a beginner, you still have a long way to go to become a master bartender. But thanks to various techniques on how to pour liquor, you can progress to develop more and more tricks in time. Hone your skills by making these delicious cocktails at home or learn how to properly drink your favorite alcohol. If you want to share other pouring methods, drop them in the comment section.

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