You’ve seen your favorite bartenders at the pub or club make your drinks with ease, and now you’re ready to do the same at home.
You may think it begins and ends with stocking up your home bar, but you need the right tools for the job in order to make sure that your drinks are not just good for you, they’re good for any of your guests.
Among the right tools for the trade is arguably one of if not the most important to have at your disposal: the jigger.
This cocktail measure is the bread and butter of your home bar. Without it, your drinks will never be up to the standards of your local drinking spot. Dive into the history, styles, and usage of the jigger to see how it can change your approach to making drinks.
What is a Jigger?
A jigger is a stainless steel measuring cup bartenders use to pour the correct amount of spirit for drinks. It is a tool meant for precision that can save you both time, money, and liquor in the long run instead of trying to eyeball pours.
In fact, it can actually make your home cocktails taste better and closer to those you enjoy at the bar. Just consider how much of a difference your spirit measurement can make: too little of a pour and your liquor base is already ruined, too much of a pour, and your drink is too strong.
In short, it is your ticket to simulating your favorite drinks right at home.
While the exact origins of the jigger are a bit unbalanced, measuring cups for liquor have been used for a long time, centuries even! However, most cocktail historians point to the Royal British Navy in the 19th century for coining the phrase.
Sailors in this navy would dub their spirit rations and the cups they were in as “jiggers,” derived from the smallest part of their ship’s mast called the jiggermast. Despite being a regional phrase, its popularity would grow over time.
This terminology was eventually brought to the United States as Irish immigrant canal workers in the northeast were given jiggers of whiskey.
The one distributing these rations to the workers was also known as the “jigger boss.” Still, an official jigger wasn’t formalized until 1893 when Cornelius Dungan patented the double-ended style jigger.
Though various jigger styles have been created and used throughout many bars over the years, the double jigger from Dungan is the de-facto tool that bartenders and mixologists rely on to this day.
Even though jiggers may vary in shape and color, most follow standard measuring guidance. The typical measurements for a jigger are 0.75 ounces, 1 ounce, 1.5 ounces, and 2 ounces.
Through the different styles, you may notice different combinations of measurements, but note that ultimately they are there to guide your pours and not to constrain you.
The 5 Types of Jiggers
As you’re constructing your home bar and thinking about which jigger to use, you’re going to come across a litany of different types.
The purpose of these are all the same (measure and pour the spirit), but they each have their benefits and drawbacks that should be considered before adding them to your cocktail tool kit.
1. Single Jigger
The single jigger is a simple measuring cup for liquor. No frills, no extra features, just a reliable tool for home and professional bartenders. This version is usually associated with a shot glass that measures 1.5 ounces, though this can also vary in size.
The upside to using a single jigger is that there’s only half the equipment to clean afterward and you have a little extra dexterity while holding it. On the other hand, it will mean a slower process of making your cocktail, which could frustrate home mixologists who expect their drinks to be made with speed.
Overall, a great stepping stone for learning how to pour your spirits into a smaller container but it could be improved.
2. Double Jigger/Japanese Jigger
When you ask a bartender about a jigger, this type is what comes to mind.
The patented double jigger has a large half and a smaller half with a 2:1 measuring ratio (ex. 1.5 ounces and 0.75 ounces).
A slimmer, elongated version of the double jigger, the Japanese jigger, measures the same but has a smaller rim to reduce spillage compared to the somewhat bulkier design of the original.
While this tool can be a great way to speed up your mixing at home, it does mean an extra measuring cup to clean should you use both sides.
3. Angled Jigger
Your first few tries at pouring with a jigger may be clumsy, but the angled jigger is designed to help.
This variation has a flared-out rim and spout to make pouring into the mixer or glass more precise and reduce the amount of unnecessary spillage.
The angled jigger also makes it easier to see how much of the spirit is in the measuring cup instead of constantly shifting it.
The downside to this version is that it is a single jigger, meaning that you’ll still be slowed down slightly while making your drinks.
4. Multi-level Jigger
As mentioned earlier, precision is key to a good cocktail, especially one you make at home. That’s why the multi-level jigger takes some of the initial guesswork out of measuring your liquor by having visible markings on the outside of the tool.
As you become more comfortable with using it, you’ll be able to clearly indicate how much 0.75 ounces is and create the repetition necessary to retain it.
This is an excellent tool for advanced home bartenders, as well as the multiple markings, which help you experiment with different amounts.
Just like the angled jigger, however, the multi-level jigger typically comes in a single cup.
5. Jigger with a Handle
New home bartenders are inevitably going to accidentally overpour and get some of the spirit running down the jigger. This can cause you to lose your grip on the tool and lead to even more spillage or get your bartop dirty.
By having a jigger with a handle, you can add extra distance between your fingers and the tool, leaving it as an extension of your body that can measure the right amount. The longer handle can be easy to use just by rotating it back and forth between pours.
With that said, it does mean the tool will be larger than a normal jigger, meaning that it will take up more space in your sink, drawer, and cabinet.
How to Use a Jigger
Now that you know about the backstory and various types of jiggers, it’s time to know how to use it to make your home bar a fun experience.
It may seem unheard of that a jigger has a specific method of usage that differs from other measuring cups, but it can be narrowed down to two concepts: handling and measuring.
The handling here is assumed to be for a double jigger due to it being one of the more common styles you’ll find at home or a professional bar.
There are two ways to hold the jigger: with your thumb and forefinger grasping the middle piece connecting the two cups and your remaining fingers guiding the tool down as you pour, or between your middle and ring fingers with your palm facing upward.
Regardless of how you grab the jigger, be sure to keep a firm grip on the tool.
As you make drinks at home, you may accidentally spill some of the liquor on your hands, and keeping a tight grip on the jigger will prevent you from dropping it to the chagrin of yourself or your guests.
When measuring out your liquid, hold the cocktail measuring cup above the shaker or glass just in case you overpour. While this may mean overpouring your drink, it will keep your mixing area cleaner.
If you’re still new to using the jigger, pour slowly at first that way you can keep a keen eye on how much liquor passes each line.
Be sure to reach the top of the rim if your intent is to measure the full cup amount. If you need less than the full amount, measure up to the line you need and hold the jigger at eye level so you can make sure you have precisely as much as you need.
No matter your experience level, the jigger is one of the most effective tools to have at your home bar.
You and your guests can enjoy quality cocktails without having to worry about over pouring, under pouring, or missing out on your spirit’s distinct flavors.
Take the time to practice using your jigger to take your home mixology skills even further.
As you get better, experiment with other jigger styles to see which one suits your unique home bar needs. Keep pouring, and enjoy!