Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Pourers

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.


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8 thoughts on “Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Pourers

  1. I bartended for 10 years. Pourers 1 or 2 were my go-to choice. I found #4 to be tacky & look like plastic chrome… which it is LOL. Also, if they are what I think they are… 4, 5 , 6 flow way to fast for a standard bartender count of 1-1/4oz so I hated when someone accidentally bought them & they got put on a few bottles at our bar.

    If you bartend long enough you learn to use the side of the glass or pour over a cherry to produce layered drinks. No need for putting your finger over any airholes. Of course this could be another reason not to use 4, 5, or 6 LOL. Can’t really speak to fruitflies… the bar I worked in was so busy that a bottle never sat on the shelf for long so we really didn’t have that kind of problem. All this is just preferences & opinions. Everyones is different :)

    Either way thanks for the writeup. Is nice to see all the pourers side by side :o)

  2. It should be noted that /all/ of the vented pourers are susceptible to fruit flies, as they can crawl down the vent tube.

    Another guilty distiller in the list of non-standard openings is my favorite gin, Plymouth (the only gin that is both a brand and a style). The opening is too large for a standard pourer. On the other hand, my pourers fit Stoli just fine.

  3. I strongly disagree with the original poster about his/her review of the various types of speed pourers. The tapered metal pourer (number 1 in the photo) is far superior to other styles, and here is why…

    POURING ANGLE– I find that with plastic pourers (numbers 4, 5, 6, 7), the bottle must be held at the perfect orientation and angle to achieve a smooth stream of liquid. Otherwise, the liquid will sputter and you have to mentally adjust your count to compensate. Stainless steel pourers (nunmbers 1, 2, 3) are typically not angled, so unless your thumb is covering the breather, it pours smoothly and immediately. This is especially helpful when bartending in high-volume situatons, because you can grab multiple bottles at once (two or three in one hand, even) without having to think about the direction in which you’re holding the bottle.

    DRIPPING– Plastic pourers typically do not have a rubber seal that goes around the top of the bottle as well as into the neck. Therefore, metal pourers are much less likely to drip out the seal while you’re using them. Dripping not only causes wasted liquor, but if you’re pouring a liquid with a higher sugar content, it gets on your hands and is damn annoying. (Numbers 4, 6, 7 are the biggest offenders here.)

    CLOGGING– Anything with a screen clogs very quickly. Plastic pourers, even without a bug-screen, are more likely to get a sugary buildup inside the breather. This results in clogged, sputtering pours. Metal pourers don’t really clog, unless you’re using them on a bottle of syrup (Monin products, for example), which are a nightmare for any pourer. (Numbers 3, 6, 7 are the worst in this category, and #4 can be pretty bad as well.)

    CLEANLINESS– Not only do stainless-steel pourers look the most professional, they are also the easiest to clean. Anything with a screen or ball bearing will need to be soaked in hot water frequently (so numbers 3, 6, 7 are all a cleanliness nightmare). Chrome-colored plastic pourers (number 4) tend to lose their shine quickly, and I find that the crease where the spout meets the seal builds up stickiness quickly. Anything sugary, such as Grand Marnier, will leave a crusty coating of sugar on the standard pourer (number 5). I do recognize that pourers without a screen are more likely to let in fruit flies, but I personally would rather cover all of my bottles at night then spend time soaking screened pourers to open them up again.

    RATE OF FLOW– I find that the wider-mouthed ‘jet’ pourers (number 2) pour the alcohol too fast. It makes it more difficult to precisely measure liquid in small amounts, which is sometimes necessary in a more complex cocktail. I think the standard plastic pourer (number 5) also pours too fast). The chromed plastic pourer (number 4) sputters too often to flow consistently, and the screened pourers (numbers 3, 6) tend to clog, also diminishing their accuracy.

    As for the OP’s complaint about the metal pourers stabbing him/her, it certainly has happened to me when I am first getting used to a new bar’s setup, but after working behind that bar for a little while, I get very comfortable with my surroundings and avoid getting nicked by the pour-spouts. Just gotta get used to where stuff is. In this case, the potential for hazard is not enough to steer me away from the equipment that makes my job easy.

    • I’ve never heard of anyone getting stabbed by pourers. I’m a relatively new bar tender but that’s the only spout we use and I’ve never come close to cutting myself after 4 months full time, 5 years occasional. That seems really odd.

  4. im wondering in a home bar if pours allow the lighter than air fun stuff out of the bottles leaving them inert in terms of fun. sounds like a job for myth busters.

  5. “Ball Pourer – Designed to address strict quantity control requirements and seriously obsessive (misguided) owners. Few things are cheesier and a waste of money.” And yet a relative’s restaurant was bleeding at the seams from bartenders under pouring, over pouring to friends and family, or just drinking the under pours themselves when they have done enough.

    Ball Pours, designed to insure the customer doesn’t get ripped off via of whim decisions by the bartender, personal likes/dislikes, tipping habits, trying to get laid aka free drinks to that bar fly, so they are used to keep no so honest people honest.

    Customers that think they are being cheated are most likely getting the friendly over pours robbing someone. Would you buy gas unmetered?

    Bartenders liking them or not is a moot point, that is like having the inmates running the prison.

  6. *bar’tend’er n. a person who serves alcoholic drinks
    *mix’ol-o’gist n. an employee who mixes and serves alcoholic drinks at a bar

    Since I have been in the business of serving the Beverage Industry almost forty years I’ve gotten to know many of you. I consider Bartenders and Servers as the front line troops serving the customers. Many of you take great pride in your ability to serve your customers and do an exceptional job. Some of you have said measured pours are just something to make your bosses more money and make you feel the customers are somehow being cheated. At the same time many other Bartenders have learned that a measured pourer makes their job easier because they no longer have to take the extra step of using a shot glass or have to count while the liquor is pouring. Measured Pours look and work just like free pours until they shut off, you can stop the flow any time and when you go to pour again it will pour the designated amount. That makes them flexible when pouring drinks that require small amounts of several spirits. It is easier to learn to use these spouts than pouring a Tap Beer as the pour is always the same where Tap Beer can change depending on which type of Beer you are dispensing and how the pressure is set. Be aware they are as easy to make work properly as they are to make them not work.

    From the customers perspective isn’t it more important how much you are pouring vs. how you are pouring? No longer will your drinks be prepared too weak or too strong in fact with measured pours every drink you pour will have exactly the same taste and isn’t that what your customers want? Since measured pours come in sizes ranging from 1/2oz (for flavors and syrups) up to 3oz ( for Martini’s and Manhattans) you can pour as much as you need. With your customers monitoring what they consume more than ever and with Dram shop laws making you responsible doesn’t it make sense that over serving your customers for tips should no longer be acceptable?

    * Webster’s New World Dictionary

    Rick Sandvik is President of Precision Pours, Inc

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