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Lowering The Bar: When To Stir It Up And When To Shake It Down

Lowering The Bar: When To Stir It Up And When To Shake It Down

While there aren’t exactly any definitive laws that say a cocktail must be shaken or stirred, there are a lot of damn good reasons why some drinks are mixed one way and not the other. Let’s break it down.


Why do we stir drinks?

We stir cocktails in order to ensure they retain a nice, rich texture and to have more control over its chilling and dilution. The spirit is the star of the show here and you don’t want to lose it in too much water.

What do I need to stir my drink?

An important place to start is with a sturdy glass (a pint glass or a dedicated mixing glass will do), a julep strainer, and a twisted barspoon. It’s good to use a glass for mixing so you can visually see the dilution in action, but a metal mixing tin will also work in a pinch. A bar spoon is a necessity because of its length and size compared to standard spoons. The smaller bowl and longer, twisted handle allow for an easier and more ergonomic stir. The julep strainer will help you get your drink from the mixing glass into your serving vessel minus the ice.

When should I stir my drink?

Whenever you have a spirit forward cocktail such as a Manhattan, Negroni, or an Old Fashioned. As we’ve learned, the spirit is the star, and you want to make sure you retain all of that flavor. If the recipe doesn’t call for any citrus or juice, you’re safe to stir. Here’s an example of a very classic stirred cocktail:

The Negroni: A well-balanced bittersweet, spirit-forward cocktail 

1oz Gin
1oz Sweet Vermouth
1oz Campari

Combine all the ingredients into a mixing glass and top with ice. Stir until preferred dilution and then strain into rocks glass (served neat or over ice, is your choice). Garnish with an orange peel.


Why do I shake cocktails?

On the other end of the spectrum, we shake a cocktail because we want to give the drink an airy texture while rapidly chilling and diluting. Shaken cocktails benefit from a thorough and even marriage of all their ingredients and soften any bolder flavors that could potentially overpower another.  

What do I need to shake?

You have a few options when it comes to tools, all of them are just a variety of shaking tin. Most people will probably recognize a cobbler shaker; a combination of a large tin, a top section with a built in strainer, and a little cap for the top of the strainer. Another option is the Boston shaker tin set, which is a larger metal shaking tin that fits over either a pint/mixing glass, or another, smaller metal tin. And just as with stirring, you’ll need to strain that liquid from your tin to your glass. A cobbler set will have a build in strainer, but if you don’t have one of those, a Hawthorne strainer will do nicely. There will be a lot of smaller ice chips, so you can also use a fine mesh strainer to get those guys out.

When do I shake cocktails?

If your cocktail recipe calls for citrus, juice or any myriad of other added/muddled ingredients, you’re safe to shake. Drinks that require rapid chilling and extra dilution should be shaken as well.

The Margarita: A Classic Shaken Cocktail

2oz Tequila
1oz Orange Liqueur 
3/4oz Fresh Lime Juice 

Combine all ingredients in a shaking tin with ice. Shake for 3-4 seconds. Strain.

Are there different shaking techniques?

For the most part, the difference between shakes is the duration of the shake. A short shake (3-4 quick shakes) will combine the ingredients but not over dilute and is used when you will be adding an extra ingredient after the fact, i.e. soda water, ginger beer, etc. A regular shake will generally be between a 5-6 second shake and is the most common shake. Some recipes will ask for a long shake, which means adding another 5-6 seconds for even more dilution. Use plenty of ice when shaking any cocktail. If using a Boston shaker you want to fill the glass/tin all the way to the top with ice for the most liquid to ice surface area contact. If using a Cobbler shaker leave some room at the top. Shake the tin so you can hear the ice smack the top and the bottom of the tins.

The other shaking technique to become familiar with is the Mime Shake. This shake is reserved for cocktails with egg whites or any other similar modifier. Add all your ingredients into the tin and give it a regular shake with ice. Strain the ingredients back into the tin, toss the ice, and then proceed to shake it once more. The two shakes are required to dilute the cocktail, but the egg white needs an extra shake to make sure your cocktail is nice and frothy. There’s only one rule that is universally agreed upon in the cocktail world and that is ALWAYS shake an egg white cocktail. Stirring one of those bad boys never turns out well. Trust us.

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