Pourers – the truth. The only bar that doesn’t need them is Uncle Wilson’s 70′s-ish, fake-wood paneled basement boudoir. What’s a pourer? Well, for uninitiated, it’s a device that fits 98 percent of standard glass [and plastic - yech...] spirit bottles, enabling a – supposedly – controlled, continuous flow of hooch. Why do you need pourers Mr. Bartender? Answer: speed and consistency. (1) Speed = money. Make drinks faster, make more money – unless you’re fond of picking boogers, endlessly flashing ass, or texting incessantly (2) it’s far easier to pour a consistently similar amount into a shaker or glass given the same drink order, repeatedly. That saves needless remade drinks, overpours, underpours and the like.
Bar owners long ago figured out the relationship between speed/consistency and shrinkage. That’s why you’ll find these little suckers on just about every bottle in every bar. The only places you won’t find them, are on (1) premium/super-premium/top-shelf Whiskies Cognacs – where they would severely “cheapen” the experience (2) infrequently used thick/sugary/creamy Aperitifs and Digestifs where adequate flow can be inhibited and (3) Satellite or makeshift bars for one-time chow-downs and boozefests [e.g., weddings, Elk's Lodge, and Knight's of Columbus meets]. These groups sometimes don’t bother – either because the expected volume is relatively light, there’s an open bar [no one cares about shrinkage], or the event planner is simply an idiot.
All pourers are comprised of three main parts: (1) spout (2) breather (3) seal. The Spout, as the name implies, allows liquid to be poured. The Breather is a hole or tube allowing air back into the bottle as the liquid is dispensed, providing a smooth and consistent flow of liquid. Without it, you’d have severe gurgling, immeasurable quantities, and a huge mess. Try uncapping a soda bottle, turning it directly upside-down, in an attempt to fill a cup and you’ll see what I mean. Finally, the seal, ensures that the bottle’s contents don’t seep out the sides while pouring. Very much like piston rings on a car engine keep the combustion process out of the oil pan.
Most pourers feature several layers of seals to fit most bottles. Some seals, however, are made of cork – avoid them at all costs. They tend to deteriorate quickly and fall out of the bottle at the worst conceivable moments as friction, in the form of a wedge, is the only thing holding them in. Rubber, or malleable plastic seals, are far more reliable – but they do wear out after being pulled out and pushed into bottles a couple of dozen times.
NOTE: A great habit as bartender is to always pour with your hand grasping the neck of a bottle (not the body) and your forefinger over the pour spout. The reason: as pourers wear, they sometimes fall out at the most inappropriate times. I’ve witnessed coworkers dump some really expensive booze all over the ground due to failed pourers.
Pourers are cheap insurance. In quantity, they can range in price from a few cents to a dollar or two for the most exotic models (excluding computer-controlled garbage). You can get them just about anywhere from your local supermarket, to Amazon, to commercial restaurant supply outlets.
Let’s take a look at the different types, shall we?
1. Tapered Metal Pourer – Common in many bars. Medium flow-rate. Rubber seals. Susceptible to fruit-fly and another nasty bug infestations.
2. Standard Metal Pourer – Common. High-flow rate. Rubber seals. No screens. Susceptible to fruit-fly and another nasty bug infestations.
3. Screened Metal Pourer – Not common. Low flow rate. Terrible for frequently-used, rail liquors. Abysmal on syrupy or creamy spirits such as Irish Cream, Midori, Kahlua and Chocolate Liqueur. Often pours at 1/2 to 2/3 the rate of “standard” pourers. Impervious to critters. Great for low-volume call spirits that might be attractive to bugs. These pourers slow you down and therefore, cost you money.
NOTE: 1,2 and 3 should never be placed in your Speed Rail bottles. The reason? When you reach across them, they are very likely to gouge your forearms and hands. This is particularly true among tall bottles such as Grey Goose and Belvedere. I’ve worked at bars that insist on buying nothing but these chrome pourers, for some odd reason, and routinely walk away with 3 or 4 gashes a night – the ice bin or sink is often directly behind the bottles.
4. Chromed Plastic Pourer – Common. My personal favorite. Excellent flow rate. These are both extremely functional, while actually looking pretty damned good. They’re pretty enough to use on your backbar/display bottles. They’re not terribly expensive either. Bugaboos also really like them these pourers. You can use your thumb to cover the breather hole, slowing down the flow rate – good for layering. Best for high-volume, cheap liquor needs.
5. Standard All-Plastic Pourer – Extremely common. The grand-daddy of pourers. Cheap as hell by the bunch. Excellent flow rate. Very similar to Chromed Pourers. If you’re going to go this route, do yourself a huge favor: for God’s sake, don’t buy the Day-Glo orange and red ones. They scream Bennigans and Uno’s. Stick with black or other muted colors. Best for high-volume rail spirits and refrigerated, thick spirits such as Jagermeister, Goldschlagger, Rumpleminze, and Baileys.
NOTE: 1, 2, 4 and 5 are screen-less pourers. Care should be taken to mitigate the fruit-fly issue. They will inevitably be drawn to certain distillates – namely, Whiskies, Cognacs, and sugary liqueurs. Invest in some really good ventilation, cap those bottles somehow, or put them away. Every bottle should be covered nightly (usually with plastic wrap) and inspected for nasties on a daily basis. 4 and 5 are the best option for the thick spirits previously mentioned as they will still flow decently. Furthermore, anything else will severely limit you from controlling flow. For example, if you have to layer shots such as a B52 or an AstroPop, you’re going to have a hell of time getting it right with other pourers. Open pourers have an air hole that you can cover with your thumb or forefinger, allowing you to slow down the flow rate. In conjunction with the back of a utensil, you can easily pour clean layered shots time and time again.
6. Screened Plastic Pourer – Very good flow rate. Inexpensive. Very common. Many bars choose this particular model because they control bug infestation very well while still allowing for a relatively fast pour. Fruit Flies can’t get in (or out). May require frequent cleaning. Terrible for thick, syrupy spirits – don’t bother. There is no separate vent. Thus, there is no option for easily controlling flow. It won’t work on these bad boys. Again, don’t buy the Snooki-loving fuchsia colored varieties lest your bar be invaded by spikey-haired, Ed Hardy and True Religion-loving, lobster colored bros.
7. Ball Pourer – Designed to address strict quantity control requirements and seriously obsessive (misguided) owners. Few things are cheesier and a waste of money. These pourers are “calibrated” to allow for pours of 1oz to 1.5oz usually. They’re often found in Casino service bars and idiotic bro-destinations like The Clevelander in Miami Beach. My major beef with them is that they do not allow for all recipes, custom cocktails and situations where drinks call for a “splash” or “dash” of something or other. Furthermore, these things often fail mid-stream. They’re much more of a hindrance than a help. I’ve seen frustrated bartenders pour double the intended amounts simply out of anger. Avoid these at all costs.
8. Computerized Pourers [not pictured] – The “Ball Pourer” on steroids. These are electronic pourers that can be configured to either free-pour or dispense measured amounts. Either way, the idea is to provide for super-strict inventory control, accounting, and subsequent ordering. They usually have some coiled tether or even wireless connection back to a central server cluster, allowing real-time statistical analysis and certain adjustments. Steer clear of working in bars with these. They’re the ultimate control freak’s toys. Just ask Jon Taffer. He loves to slap these systems in shit-ass, failing bars. There are far more productive (and less ghastly) processes and products for an OCD owner/manager to invest in like extensive training, top-notch hiring and screening practices, and – taking a page from the Project Management Institute – Qualitative Analysis (a.k.a., constantly reviewing and improving your Quality Control practices with respect to both products and operations).
One final note… there are distillers and bottle manufacturers out there who insist on being ultra-unique. I certainly understand the need for originality. But these assclowns insist on selling their products with a neck, or bottle opening, that doesn’t meet convention. As a result, your standard pourer is either too big to use or it’s slightly too small and you wind up spilling costly booze everywhere all night. Examples are Absolut and Stolichnaya. It’s such a simple fix… just follow the convention for standard bottle mouths. The industrial designers behind these brands have succeeded in nothing but pissing off bartenders.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I suffer from significant Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.