A Companion for the Young Imbiber

(( Cocktail Techniques ))

Posted by drinkscompanion on August 10, 2007

In Defense of Jiggering
Or How To Make A Drink Right, Dammit, And Do It Every Time

I manage a bar that, I guess, had some pretty substantial press at its beginning. Blah, blah, blah – fifteen minutes of fame, followed by an onslaught of first-on-the-scene-sters who seemed to make it their mission to intimidate and push out all the cool locals. Whatever, it happens, and my rent check and that shiny new phone can’t argue too much. But the problem is the place opened with no drinks program to speak of, mostly focusing on high-volume mixed drinks and beers. From ownership on down, no one had any experience with cocktails and how important they can be to a business. No one cared, so what began as an aesthetically incredible place quickly got a reputation for only that, a gimmick of its speakeasy heritage.

So, for reasons too numerous to explain, I was given the task of managing the bar a little over a year ago. At that point, the ruts were cut deep in the road, the staff was incredibly resistant to change, and I wasn’t exactly sure how to move the business model from only high-volume to a more quality focused ethos. It doesn’t work having bartenders with only nightclub experience measuring out a half ounce of Luxardo. They don’t get it, they don’t want it, and they sure as hell don’t think that The Last Word is the work of a deity.

And then I had to be patient. Slowly, I pulled the Rose’s from the speed rack and pressed one bottle of fresh limejuice a night. Then I made a small menu, primarily with infused liquors so it’d be easy formulas. Then I added a bottle of simple syrup, and then a bottle of lemon juice. Now, a year later, we have a fairly respectable menu and fresh juices all around. Fridays and Saturdays are still hectic as all hell, but at least I can be proud of the drinks we’re putting across – a full section of approachable classics (French Pearls, Vieux Carrés, La Rositas, etc), and a healthy dose of my own creations, evolving every few weeks as I learn more and more.

And the crowd has changed! It’s better! People come in to have COCKTAILS and not to get totally pickled. Small things make me happy.

We’ve reached, I think, a critical time. The bar has moved beyond cocktails of typical fair (sweet, fruity, vodka) and into what I hope is a more sophisticated plateau. As the list has grown to its current size of fifteen drinks, so has the expectation of consistency. Mirroring my personal bartending rock stars at Death and Co. and Pegu, I’ve begun using jiggers for the more subtle drinks. Last night, as I was working, I decided why not take the opportunity on a slow night and measure everything. Ok, not highballs, but everything else. It amazed me how much I had to quickly solidify measurements in my mind, where before I had ripped through the speed rack and did everything by sight and feel. It made me stop and think: “Ok, what really are the proper measurements to a mojito?” The process crossed a line between an abstract, almost vague understanding of a drink and knowing it in concrete reality.

Once I was comfortable with flicking the jigger around in my hand and pouring accurately, it really didn’t slow me down – and multiple drinks in a row to customer were that much better, if only because of consistency. I felt more aware of my bar and the subtleties of the ingredients.

It was like driving a manual instead of an automatic, and I’m the kind of guy who’s into that sort of thing.

– by APD

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