You’ve finally carved away precious square footage to make room for that most sacred of household additions: the home bar. But turning out top-notch drinks while in your slippers takes more than good intentions. There are bottles to buy, tools to agonize over and techniques to master. Follow us as we help you navigate your home bar basics.
Free pour or be sure? Pros in the know will tell you that when it comes to measuring, you can’t just wing it. Enter the jigger, a simple little bar tool with a huge job. Doling out the exact amount of spirits, syrups, juices and modifiers results in a perfectly proportionate Negroni and a Daiquiri that’s beautifully balanced between the sweet and the tart. When it comes to jiggers, two basic styles exist.
Leopold, left, and Japanese-style jiggers (image: Tim Nusog)
As with so much of booze history, the origins of the jigger are, well, imprecise. Some say it was named for the jiggermast, the lowest sail on a ship’s fourth mast. (Remember, British sailors were adamant about getting their daily ration of rum or gin.) Others claim that it’s a made-up nonsense term like “thingamajig.”
We do know this: In the early 19th century, the jigger came to be know as a portion of hooch approximately two-and-a-half ounces. But the double-ended version we see today, which consists of two unequally sized conical vessels, was patented in Chicago in 1893 by inventor Cornelius Dungan.
Until Prohibition, the jigger was usually two U.S. fluid ounces, a bit more generous than today’s standard size of one-and-a-half U.S. fluid ounces, yet more proof that Prohibition ruined everything. But today you’ll find double-ended hourglass-shaped jiggers that hold one and two ounces, one-and-a-half and three-quarters ounces, and several other combinations.
Two main styles of jiggers are on the market. The Leopold jigger is curvier and squatter, reminiscent of two tiny coupes or wine glasses fused together. The Japanese-style jigger is more angled, sleeker. So which one measures up?
“In my opinion, bartenders are faster and more comfortable with the Japanese style of one ounce and two ounces because it’s what most of us were trained with,” says Tracy Jenkins, the food and beverage director of Nicky’s Coal Fired in Nashville. “I love the feel and weight of a Leopold as it fits so nicely between your fingers.”
Jenkins is partial to Japanese-style jiggers from Cocktail Kingdom, whose measurements are etched on the inside and are more durable since they’re typically crafted from one piece of metal rather than two fused together.
“The weight and internal measurement markings make Leopold and Japanese-style jiggers very user-friendly,” says Benjamin Schiller, the beverage director for The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group in Chicago. Their shortcomings, he says, are their nonuniformity in size and weight. He actually prefers generic Winco jiggers when he’s behind the bar, which have a lighter feel and shorter profile.
“They’re stackable, easy to handle and cheap enough that it’s no big deal if a couple go missing,” says Schiller. But if he had to pick one go-to style for home bartenders, it would actually be the Oxo angled jigger, which is more along the lines of a small measuring cup with a spout.
For home bartenders, it’s more about aesthetics than speed and efficiency, so “choose whatever style speaks to you,” says Jenkins. And whichever you pick, be sure to pour all the way up to the meniscus for the most accurate measurement.
Schiller agrees, suggesting to start with a standard one-ounce/two-ounce jigger and achieve surface tension with your pours. And when you’re in the middle of one of those killer home cocktail parties, she says, “remain sober enough so your hand can stay steady.”