Especially for those who love mixing up a good cocktail, an accurate bar measurement tool is a vitally important thing to have on hand. This is where a jigger comes in. A cocktail jigger, which is essentially an alcohol measuring cup, is a staple at any bar.
What is a Jigger?
A cocktail jigger is a shot or cocktail measuring cup for bartenders, ranging in sizes of 0.5-2.5 oz. For ease of use, many jiggers have fill lines on the inside or outside with oft-used cocktail or shot glass measurements.
The word jigger can also be used as a unit of measurement in cocktail recipes. If you happen to come across a recipe that calls for a jigger (or jigger shot) of any spirit, that refers to the standard jigger size of 1.5 oz. Shot glasses come in various sizes, but a standard shot glass is also 1.5 oz. So in some instances, a jigger and a shot can refer to the same thing. A smaller 1 oz shot, or the 1 oz side of the jigger, is referred to as a “pony shot.”
For those interested in the conversion, 1 oz is equal to just under 30 mL, which means 1.5 oz is just under 45 mL, and 2 oz is just shy of 60 mL.
The Invention of the Cocktail Jigger
For many years, the only alcohol measuring tool was a smaller glass. The best way to measure the amount of spirit one was adding to a cocktail was with a 2 oz. sherry glass. This led to inexact, messy pours from a glass that was not meant for measurement.
That all changed when the double-sided cocktail jigger was officially patented on September 5th, 1893 by a genius/hero named Cornelius P. Dungan in Chicago, IL. Dungan’s design of two different-sized cone shapes on opposite ends of the same vessel is still a popular design among many bartender jiggers in use today.
Why is it Called a Jigger Anyway?
There is some debate as to where the name ‘jigger’ comes from. It is often credited to British sailors, who named their daily allowance of booze after the jiggermast sails on their ships. The jiggermast is the smallest mast on a ship, so it can be assumed the sailors used the nickname as a form of grievance that their drink rations were a little light.
One of the very earliest references to this word is the phrase “Jiggar boss”, referenced in an 1836 book A Narrative of Travels in the United States of America by William O’Bryan. This “boss” was a young boy who would bring a half gill of whiskey, called a jiggar, to Irish canal workers a whopping 16 times a day! A half gill of whiskey is 2.5 oz, so according to O’Bryan’s word, these people were drinking 40 oz of whiskey per day. A liter is 33.8 oz, so either O’Bryan has his numbers off, or these men were obliterated drunk every day.
The other explanation is that the word jigger is just another form of the word ‘thingamajig’. Meaning many didn’t know what the hell it was back then, or what to call it. The word thingamajig originated around 1870, so it is possible that cocktail jiggers are the reason for this phrase. What a claim to fame.
Different Styles of Cocktail Jiggers
A basic bar jigger is often referred to as a double jigger. A double bartender jigger has two sides that measure two different amounts. The standard double jigger oz measurements are 1 oz and 2 oz, but they can come in many different sizes.
A Japanese jigger offers more than just its sleek look. Japanese-style jiggers are designed more angular than a double jigger, with a thinner diameter and more height. This makes them easier to pour from and to be more exact. With a smaller diameter, a couple millimeters over your desired pour is less of a difference in liquid than with a wider cocktail jigger. Japanese jiggers also offer a few different liquor measurements on the inside rim of the hourglass design. This makes them the perfect bartender measuring cup for nearly amount of liquor. They do require a little more concentration to avoid spillage when being poured into, though.
Perfect for a beginning bartender, a stepped jigger is the easiest design for getting it just right, no matter the amount. The stepped design offers many of the favored jigger measurements on the outside, and also features measured steps for each amount, visible from the top or the outside.
The Non-Jigger: Precision Liquor Bottle Pourers
Measured liquor bottle pourers can perform a similar task as a cocktail jigger. They are especially useful for busy bartenders, as their pour spouts measure the exact same amount every time. This eliminates losses of booze caused by extra drips and heavy-handed pours.
Whatever style of jigger you decide to go with, make sure the next time you pour a shot or craft a cocktail, you have some sort of ‘thingamajig’. Stocking your bar with the proper tools makes a bartender’s life a little easier, and drinks a lot more precise.