How to “Free Pour” like a Pro in 10 minutes (or less)

Copy of Pour LiquorEver wonder how professional bartenders easily free pour so accurately — one ounce, one and a half, or two ounces — all without using a shot glass or jigger?  How long does it take to master this skill?  Check out our video below and you’ll see it takes far less time than you’d think.

At Johnny D’s, Oscar is a kick-ass bartender . . . but because the club uses a measured pour, he never perfected doing it free-hand.

A couple of weeks ago I laid down a challenge.  I told Oscar that he could quickly develop this skill in less than ten minutes . . . and learn it so well that he’d immediately be able to train someone else.

Last week we actually tried it, and at the end of this introduction you can watch the video we made of our project.

You’ll see Oscar now free-pouring like a champ, and also training Brittany, a waitress at the club with no prior bartending experience.

(You’ll also learn how to do this on your own . . . in only a few minutes.)

Quick background on the “four count” . . .

Most bartenders use a standard “four count” to free-pour — a count of  . . . 1 – 2 – 3 – 4.  The “four count” is preferred because it breaks down so easily —  “1” equals a quarter shot, “2” equals a half shot, on up to a full “4” count — which is the house pour, or one full shot.

The most common mistake when teaching this count is to put the “horse before the cart.”

I’ve seen bartenders make the trainee start pouring blind immediately.  The trainee pours blind into a tin cup, then empties it into a measuring glass to see how they did . . . short pour one time, then too much the next.

Then they try again.

And again.

And again.

It’s much faster to simply pour into a long row of shot glasses, over and over.  Just keep pouring into a shot glass while counting — until you have the exact count down like a musical beat.  Then measure how you do with a blind pour, using that learned count  . . .


Do bartenders spend their life counting . . . ?

While it’s useful to count at the beginning, just to establish the rhythm — once you have your exact count and you’ve been using it for a while — you won’t actually be counting at all.

To start, when practice is over and you’re actually working behind the bar, you’ll use a “silent count” — (as Brittany does at the 5 minute mark in the video.)  Very quickly that “silent count” will become a “muscle memory.”  Your wrist and arm will know the exact four-count just by the “feel” of the time your arm is raised.


The video . . .

First, I have to say that I’m not a great camera-man.

I also want to remind you (once more) that Oscar is teaching this lesson less than ten minutes after he’d learned the method himself.  (This is the way we planned it . . . we wanted to demonstrate how easily the skill can be both learned, and taught.)

I guess I’m pointing this out because there sure are some rough spots in the video.  There are things that we would have changed if we’d done it a second time.  (For example, towards the end of the video, Oscar is interrupted by a woman wanting to purchase a Johnny D’s T-shirt.)

And if we’d done it more than once, maybe we would have cut down on the beginning of the lesson, where Brittany is just learning the feel of the bottle.

But we had already decided . . . no editing, no corrections, just one chance.  So once the camera started rolling we were committed to “keep on trucking,” just to prove that learning how to “free-pour” is a ten-minute task.

(Actually, in this case, an 8 minute and 29 second effort.)

So here it is . . . if you follow the method in this video, you’ll be free-pouring like a pro in no time at all.  (One suggestion:  Enlarge the video to “full screen” and you can better see how accurate Brittany becomes at pouring exact shots.)

Thanks to Johnny D’s and owner Carla DeLellis for the use of her facilities and staff.

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21 Responses to How to “Free Pour” like a Pro in 10 minutes (or less)

  1. Starbucks8294 says:

    Wish I’d had the video when I learned. Took time to get the pour down, this looks much easier.

  2. Case says:

    You make it look easy. Now back to the bar stories, OK?

  3. An Irish Guy says:

    When I arrive in Johnny D’s weekend after next I want Brittany to pour me my first shot in there since you poured my last one in 1994 Mike !

  4. MikeQ says:

    Starbucks8294: Johnny La La taught me, Starbucks … he was a classic old-time barman who knew his stuff. (Sorry being late in posting this comment … had some trouble with the site updating, and with the comment module in particular.)

    Case: I hear ya, buddy … I like the stories best, too.

    An Irish Guy: That was a great “meme” you sent Irish Guy … I used in the latest post. Looking forward to tipping a pint of Guinness with you soon. (“Irish Guy” worked at Johnny D’s when he was in Boston back in the mid-ninties. He’s making a return visit from Ireland this week. He’s a bartender, restaurant manager, and IT guy … check out some of the websites he’s designed. He’s a barman at Dom’s Pier 1. )

  5. David Hayden says:

    The drills with testing the glass each time works on bottle techniques. I have seen new bartenders not be able to get their counts down because they were not tilting the bottle fully. Then they start to question the pace of their count.

    I think a video on short pouring techniques would be fun to watch. I used to love having annoying guests think I was hooking them up and actually use less booze.

  6. MikeQ says:

    DavidHayden: There are a few things that might have been done differently in the video, David … more focus on the angle of the bottle when pouring was one of them … although Oscar did correct her on the angle at the beginning, to assure the same rate of pour each time. We wanted to make it a “one-and-done” deal just to prove how easy it was … so some minor mistakes remain in the lesson. Oh well.

    I can picture you with that quiet smile on your face as some annoying customer gets shorted. : ) Thanks for stopping by!

  7. andrea says:

    Thank you, great video!

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  9. Samantha says:

    Wth? This chick starts counting before she even starts pouring….but I guess the muscle memory is the same….ugh

    • MikeQ says:

      Samantha … this “chick” has gone on to become a great bartender. Of course, when this video was shot she had zero experience behind the bar … that was the point, to take a waitress with no bar training and teach her how to free pour. I thought she did pretty well for a novice trying to learn a new skill.

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  11. David says:

    Is this a one ounce pour?

  12. Mike Q says:

    Dave … every bar or restaurant may have a different “house” pour. For some it’s one ounce, while others pour 1 1/2 or even 2 ounces. The four count is designed to adjust to each pour. You take a shot glass for your place … whatever it’s size … and match your count to fill the glass. Obviously, for a one ounce house pour the count will be faster than for a two ounce house pour. But like the chosen tempo of a song, your learned four-count will be stretched or shortened to match your exact house pour.

    • Travis says:


      The “4-Count” used in this video should always be the same speed regardless of shot size. In a 4-Count measuring system each count is a quarter of an ounce. So for a 1 and a half ounce poor you would count to 6. A 2 oz or double is an 8 count. Or in my bar where we pour a 1.25 its a 5-Count.

      • Mike Q says:

        Travis … I don’t think there’s a right or wrong, just different strokes. I’d rather adjust the timing of count, moving from one establishment to another with different house pours. Just grab the house shot glass and learn a different rhythm, length, for the count. Takes a couple of minutes, like a musician going from the tempo of one song to another.

        A four-count (regardless of what the house pour is) breaks down easily into 1/2 and 1/4 of a shot. (White Russian … one half of each liquor.) A “four-count” is one house pour; a “two-count” is 1/2 house pour.

        If you’re using a “five-count” for your shots, a half house pour would be a “2 and 1/2” count. Just personal preference.

  13. Sol says:

    Love this video, I want to be trained too.hehe

  14. Samantha says:

    Omg this video is amazing. Thank u thank u. I just started my first Bartending Job with very little training!!! I had 2 days in the bar with no customers that was my training lol. I’m in the well for my third day and kinda freaking out but after watching this video I feel ver confindent . I’m going to try your experiment now

  15. Danny Noonan says:

    So let me get this right. When the glass is full you stop ? That seems pretty easy. Do it with a blindfold and I’m impressed.

  16. Amanda says:

    I was under the impression that the line on the glasses was one ounce.
    I’m thinking about bartending.

    • Mike Q says:

      Amanda … there’s a wide range of shot glasses. You can buy shot glasses for 1 ounce, 1 and 1/4, or 1 and 3/8 ounces, and so on … each establishment chooses what their “house pour” will be. The line might indicate the measure, but it could also be just for show, for the customer. A one ounce pour might be to the top of the shot glass, while the line is lower … so customers watching see the bartender going over the line and think they’re getting extra.

  17. vivien says:

    it is a lot more complex to master the pouring technique and it is not even taught correctly in this video I am afraid.
    when you learn start in a tin and to pour one once is you count in ounces or 25ml shot and pour in in an accurate legal measure to make sure you get it right. The bottle should straight up at all time then you can pour all sorts of measure (dash-dash technique for 1/4oz, for example etc. once you accurate with both hans you can start pouring 2 hands etc. with different counts, more than one glass or mixing tin etc, etc.
    Good luck !

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