Caluculating, Controlling, and Understanding Liquor Pour Cost

Controlling the Pour of Liquor is Vital to Maintaining Quality and Cost

Tracking the pour cost in your bar is essential to your business' success
Tracking the pour cost in your bar is essential to your business' success. Jochen Sand/Digital Vision/Getty Images

What is a Pour of Liquor?

A 'pour' of liquor is, quite simply, the act and amount of liquor that is poured to create a drink.

The 'pour' could be:

  • A straight shot poured into a shot glass.
  • A straight shot poured into an old-fashioned glass for a whiskey on the rocks.
  • The amount of liquor poured to create a cocktail.

The average pour for most drinks is between 1 1/2 and 2 ounces. While every recipe will be different, a cocktail will typically call for 1 1/2 ounces of the base liquor (vodka, gin, whiskey, rum, etc.) and some recipes call for a full 2 ounces.

The accent liqueurs and mixers are typically poured between 1/4 and 3/4 ounces. 

When it comes to pouring straight shots or liquor on the rocks, most bars will use a 2 ounce pour.

How do You Get an Accurate Pour?

Maintaining an accurate pour is important for a few reasons:

  • Controlling the flavor balance of a drink.
  • Controlling the consistency of drinks from one round to another.
  • Controlling the cost involved with creating a drink.

All of these are essential to a great drinking experience, both at home and at a professional bar. The cost of drinks is especially important in the world of professional bartending because it is meant to be a profitable business and a bartender who has a regular habit of overpouring (by mere oversight or trying to increase tips) can cost a bar a lot of money.

There are a few ways to get an accurate pour and maintain consistency in cocktails.

The Jigger

The jigger is the beginning bartender's best friend because it is the measuring device that helps give us accurate pours.

While some bartenders progress beyond using the jigger as they gain experience, you will often see seasoned pros continue to use it while crafting a finely balanced drink.

Using a jigger takes all of the guesswork out of how much liquid is actually being poured. It is a two-ended measuring cup with a larger cup (often 1 1/2 to 2 ounce) on one end and a smaller cup (typically 1/2 the size of the larger volume) on the other side.

To pour ingredients that fall in between these measurements, you will need to 'eyeball' it.

Let's take the popular Cosmopolitan cocktail as an example and assume that we have a jigger with 1 1/2 ounce and 3/4 ounce cups.

To pour this drink, I would:

  1. Use the large cup of the jigger to pour 1 1/2 ounces of vodka.
  2. Then fill that end about 2/3 full with Cointreau to get about 1 ounce.
  3. Flip the jigger and fill the smaller cup about 2/3 full with fresh lime juice to get about 1/2 ounce.
  4. Then fill it about 1/3 full of cranberry juice to get about 1/4 ounce.

It is not an exact science, but with experience using a jigger becomes second nature and you can quickly pour consistent and great tasting cocktails.

The Speed Pour

The cone-shaped caps sticking out of liquor bottles at a professional bar are called speed pourers. They are designed to give the bartender easy access to the liquor without having to unscrew caps every time they need to pour a drink.

Some speed pourers have a built-in volume control. They are designed to release only a certain amount of liquid (typically the standard 1 1/2- or 2-ounce shot) each time the bottle is turned upside down. This is an effective way to avoid overpouring.

The act of speed pouring is a technique that many professional bartenders use to bypass the use of a jigger.

A good speed pourer can use a count in their heads (1...2...3...) to accurately pour exactly how much liquor is needed for a drink.

You will see this all the time if you order highballs like the Gin & Tonic or John Collins at a bar. The bartender pours liquor directly from the bottle into the glass (often letting the stream get to arm's length) until the correct amount of liquor is in the glass.

A great bartender is very accurate at speed pouring and it can significantly increase the number of drinks they can make in a short period of time.

Beginners can practice this technique by filling an empty liquor bottle with water. Begin by pouring into a jigger to get the timing, then graduate to a direct pour into a glass, measuring every pour to check accuracy. Within no time, you will have a consistent, accurate pour that becomes second nature.

Why is Controlling the Pour Important?

For the amateur bartender, it is about consistency and creating well-balanced drinks. For the professional, it is about controlling costs.

Any bar owner is (or should be) concerned about inventory control and the cost of each drink their bartenders are serving. That is why bars calculate pour cost on a regular basis and why some insist on the use of jiggers or volume-controlled speed pourers.

How to Calculate a Bar's Pour Cost

Calculating pour cost in a professional bar is an important task that must be done regularly to ensure that the establishment remains profitable and to prevent against theft and overpouring.

Pour cost must be calculated on at least a monthly basis, failure to do so can lead to theft or other serious issues. A weekly routine is even better and will allow managers to identify trends and manage challenges proactively. 

The simplest way to calculate pour costs is used most often by professional bars and restaurants:

  1. Inventory is taken.
  2. The cost of goods sold (COGS) is divided by the bar sales for that same period.

For instance:

  • Inventory reveals that $12,275 in product was sold during the month of November.
  • Bar sales for November were $35,125.
  • The pour cost for the month of November would be 34.9%. ($12,275 / $35,125 = .349)

Most professional bars seek a pour cost of between 18 to 24%, so 34.9% would generally be considered quite high.

With a pour cost that high, restaurant and bar managers would first want to ensure that a complete inventory was done, recalculate the cost of goods sold, and review the monthly sales figures for accuracy. If the pour cost is legitimately that high then managers should look for buybacks, overpouring, theft and unrecorded or misfired drinks as control opportunities.