The majority of cocktail recipes call for the ingredients to be shaken using a cocktail shaker. It is the most enjoyable and entertaining bartending technique, and it's very simple.
Learning how to shake cocktails properly will significantly improve your drinks. With a few tips and a little practice, you will master it in no time. Once you get your personal shaking style down, your cocktails will emerge crisp, cool, and have a perfect blend of flavors.
Cocktail Shaker Styles
Cocktail shakers come in three basic styles. All create great drinks, and which you choose will be a matter of personal preference.
- The cobbler shaker is the classic three-piece shaker with a shaking tin, built-in strainer, and cap.
- The Boston shaker has two pieces—a large shaking tin and a smaller tin or pint glass—and requires a separate strainer.
- The French (or Parisian) shaker is a hybrid. It's a two-piece shaker that uses a cobbler-style top but doesn't have a cap and built-in strainer. These are generally more expensive and rare than the other two styles.
Material is an important consideration when buying a shaker. Most cocktail shakers are made of stainless steel because it is durable, easy to clean, doesn't trap heavy aromas and flavors, and better maintains temperature. You will find cobblers made of plastic or glass, though it's likely that these will not stand up well over time. While it's also common to use a pint glass for the smaller piece of a Boston shaker, many pro bartenders find that two tins produce more consistent cocktails.
Watch: How to Look Cool Shaking Cocktails
How to Shake a Cocktail
The process of actually shaking a cocktail is straightforward. It should take just a minute or two from when you begin pouring the ingredients to the time you strain the drink. In most cases, you will follow these six steps to shake a cocktail:
- Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker tin.
- Fill the shaker with ice (some bartenders do this before pouring).
- Secure the lid or shaker tin.
- Hold the shaker with both hands (one on each piece) and shake vigorously in a horizontal motion over your shoulder.
- Shake for a slow count of ten or until the outside of the shaker frosts up.
- Strain your cocktail into a chilled glass. Remember to strain over fresh ice when preparing drinks served on the rocks.
If you don't have a cocktail shaker, a jar with a tight-sealing lid will do in a pinch. Some people prefer Mason jars, though any medium-volume jar works. Make sure that it is thoroughly cleaned so you don't contaminate your cocktails with residual flavors or smells.
How Long Should a Cocktail Be Shaken?
Typically, the advice is to shake a cocktail for about 10 seconds, or until the (stainless steel) shaker tin becomes nice and frosty. For most people and drinks, this is enough time to produce an excellent cocktail. However, if you naturally put a lot of force behind your shake, you might shorten that to as little as 5 seconds to avoid overly diluted drinks.
Some drinks should be shaken longer and harder. For cocktails that have many ingredients or ingredients that don't mix well such as eggs or cream, shake the drinks for at least 30 seconds to ensure a proper mix. Egg cocktails are often best with a dry shake, so hold the ice and give the ingredients an initial shake, then add ice and shake as normal.
Helpful Shaking Tips
While the basic shaking technique is straightforward, there are simple things you can do to make sure everything goes smoothly and that you get consistent, well-mixed drinks.
- Don't overfill the shaker. Give the ingredients plenty of room to move around (it also helps to prevent spills). The average-sized shaker can handle two or three drinks at once, depending on the volume. If you're using a small shaker, mix one drink at a time.
- Shake to a rhythm. Hum a tune, shake to a beat, and get into the movement. Many bartenders enjoy a good Caribbean drum beat or will shake to the music in the bar. Have fun with it.
- Shake it like you mean it. Shaking a cocktail is not meant to be gentle. Give the movement some force and power and enjoy the exercise.
- Have a firm grip. No matter the style, hold both pieces of the shaker firmly to ensure they stay together while you're shaking. When using a cobbler shaker, place a finger on top of the lid to hold that in place as well. A cocktail on the floor is a sad thing, so keep your shaker in one piece.
- Shake over your shoulder. Just in case the shaker does come apart, shake over one of your shoulders (whichever is natural), pointing the lid (or smaller piece of a Boston shaker) to the back. Your backside may get wet, but your guests will not. This also helps add force to the shake because you'll naturally want to hold it horizontally (a vertical shake is less effective and a bit awkward).
Ice is the often-overlooked cocktail ingredient, and it's important that you use quality ice whenever you're mixing a drink. Shaking dilutes cocktails, and that water needs to be as pure and fresh as possible.
- Cubes work out well and should not be shattered but have rounded edges after the shake.
- The smaller the cube, the more water is added, so consider reducing the shaking time.
- Crushed ice breaks down quickly and is rarely used.
There's also a difference between wet and dry ice—"dry" meaning straight out of the freezer, which reduces dilution. Experiment to see what type of ice works best with your shaking style.
Why Are Cocktails Shaken?
Shaking a drink is not done simply because it's fun or flashy. There are excellent reasons why most cocktails are shaken. The general "shaken vs. stirred" rule is to shake cocktails with nonalcoholic mixers, lots of flavors, or heavy ingredients, and the goal of shaking is to:
- Thoroughly mix the drink's ingredients and create a unified flavor.
- Aerate the cocktail for a lighter mouthfeel.
- Give the drink a good chill.
- Add enough dilution to knock the strength of the drink down, making it more pleasant to sip.
Some drinkers may argue against the last point because they prefer a stiff drink, but water serves a few purposes. After shaking, cocktails that are almost entirely made of alcohol (like most martinis) can easily be 20 percent to 30 percent ABV (40 to 60 proof). At that potency, two drinks can easily get some people rather tipsy. Undiluted, these can be like taking a four-ounce shot of liquor.
Additionally, many cocktails simply taste better with a little dilution. The water opens up the flavors, helps them blend into a single flavor, and tames the alcohol to create a more enjoyable drink. This is why many whiskey connoisseurs and experts add a splash of water when sipping whiskey straight.
Don't worry about over-diluting your drinks. That's far more likely to happen if it takes you longer than 30 minutes to finish a rum and Coke. If you want a drink that gives you a shock, stick to shots. When you want a drink to experience, use your shaker.