Federico Avila thinks most jiggers are terrible.
“The same brand can come in a different size,” he says. “You can buy five of the same brand at different times of the year and they’re all different sizes, sometimes a five-milliliter difference.”
Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like all that much. But when Avila is making cocktails at Bar Belly in Manhattan — where he’s the general manager—that little difference can throw off the flavor of a carefully crafted drink that has up to eight different ingredients. A few well-made jiggers (and a bar spoon or two) are some of the most important tools that he uses behind the bar, both from a recipe and an aesthetics perspective.
We caught up with Avila to talk about the best styles of jiggers to use and why.
Why did you settle on using a Japanese jigger?
The reason I like them is because part of being a bartender is entertainment. People love to see you flick the jiggers around. They’re like, “What?” It makes your job a lot more fun, too. Two jiggers, flip one to the other. Start with a 3/4-ounce and then use a 1-ounce, and then flip them as you put your bottle down. It becomes like second nature. You don’t even need to flair—all you need is a little bit of gracefulness. That’s just something that keeps people engaged.
Have you used a jigger since you started bartending?
When I first started bartending, it was a long time ago in Jersey. It was a tapas bar, and I was making a lot of Long Island Iced Teas and stuff. There were no jiggers, though, just free pour. I remember back then, if you were using a jigger, it was like, “What, you can’t free pour?”
Then I started working in New York, and the national ambassador for Banks Rum introduced me to the jigger, and I was like, “I’ll never learn to use this thing.” But it ended up being simple. I started with one 2-ounce jigger, then I found the little 3/4-ounce one and started practicing using both at the same time.
What other types of jigger do you suggest people try out?
You can do most cocktails with one 2-ounce Japanese style jigger, and you only need the little one for the quarter-ounce pours. But the one thing that’s cool with the OXO jigger is that it has all the dimensions on one. I used it one at one of our bartender’s stations, and I hated it until I started using it. All the measurements are broken down and easy to see.
What are your thoughts on free pouring now?
I used to think that using a jigger was an amateur thing. But now I look at free pouring like you would look at comfort food. When you cook at home, you do it how you like it. Free pouring works in a Vodka Soda, maybe a Daiquiri, but I don’t care how good you are, once you’re under pressure and moving fast and have 20 tickets to make and people are screaming, your free pour isn’t going to be on point all the time.
Using jiggers is very, very important, even though a lot aren’t consistent. It helps you learn the recipes very well, because a lot of people free pouring don’t know the recipes. I don’t think free pouring is a good thing if you’re making cocktails. What would you think if you saw a chef not using measurements, and just dumping in from the carton like, “This is a cup of milk?”
Are there any jiggers that shouldn’t be used?
I would never like to see a bartender using a jigger with a handle on it. That’s just like, “Wow, you should be using that at home.” That’s the one that I wouldn’t trust.
Created by Federico Avila at Bar Belly
- 1 dash black walnut bitters
- 1 dash tonka bean tincture
- .5 tsp. dry Curaçao
- .75 oz. Pedro Ximénez sherry
- .25 oz. cognac
- .25 oz. Mr. Black Cold Brew Coffee Liqueur
- 1.5 oz. Żubrówka Bison Grass Vodka
- Fresh whipped cream (for garnish)
- Nutmeg (for garnish)
Preparation: Stir ingredients together in a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with fresh whipped cream and nutmeg.
Meet Frederico Avila
Originally from Uruguay, Federico Avila took an interest in cocktails from an early age, fusing together various ingredients to revamp classic cocktails like the Caipirinha and Caju Amigo. His passion for cocktails and eagerness to explore brought him to New York, where he oversaw the cocktail program and trained bartenders for several notable bars, including BlackTail, The Dead Rabbit, Library of Distilled Spirits, and Experimental Cocktail Club.
Currently, Federico serves as the general manager at Bar Belly, an iconic hideaway with a new menu that uses tropical ingredients with sustainability in mind.