How to Stir a Cocktail Like the Pros

What you need to stir up a great drink

Stirring a cocktail
Stirring is a gentler mixing technique

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Do you know how to properly stir a cocktail? It may surprise you that there is a "proper" technique for this seemingly simple task in the bar. With the help of a bar spoon, the quality of your mixed drinks will improve if you put it into practice.

When to Stir a Cocktail

Stirring is a gentler mixing technique than shaking. It combines the ingredients with just enough agitation to create a uniform flavor in the drink.

It may seem like a simple technique that you mastered when you were four years old, and it is. However, its purpose in mixology is important. When you stir drinks, the goal is to gently combine the ingredients and dissolve enough ice to water down the potent mix. This makes it more palatable and enjoyable for the drinker. 

The real question is whether a drink should be shaken or stirred. There are two times when stirring is generally preferred:

  • Drinks are typically stirred when they contain distilled spirits only. Martinis and Manhattans are perfect examples of "up" drinks that are often stirred, though some drinkers prefer them shaken. Some people argue that shaking will "bruise" the liquor—particularly when talking about gin—and that this can ruin the delicate flavors.
  • You will also stir when building a mixed drink directly in the glass it will be served in. This is used for many highball and lowball drinks like the whiskey ginger and white Russian.

How to Stir a Drink

The most important thing to remember is that you don't stir cocktails as if you were mixing a cake batter. That would only create a huge mess and splash sticky liquid all over the bar. Instead keep it slow, smooth, and steady; be patient and go with the flow.

  1. Fill a mixing glass halfway with ice. Use the base of a cocktail shaker or a highball or pint glass if no mixing glass is available.
  2. Add the liquors and other cocktail ingredients.
  3. Hold a bar spoon with your thumb and first two fingers at the top of the twisted part of the shaft.
  4. Technique #1: Dunk the bar spoon into the glass and twirl the shaft back and forth and up and down for 20 to 30 seconds.
    Technique #2: Place the bar spoon along the inside of the glass and gently rotate it (moving only your wrist) around the outer edge for 20 to 30 seconds.
  5. Strain the drink into a well-chilled glass appropriate for the cocktail.


  • Remember that unless you're mixing a drink in the serving glass, it's best to use fresh ice for stirred or shaken drinks served on the rocks. Fresh ice will dilute slower than the mixing ice, which has already been broken down by the agitation.
  • When making mixed drinks that are built in a glass over ice, such as a screwdriver or rum and Coke, most bartenders will either leave the drink as is or give it a quick stir. They will typically include a sip stick or straw for the drinker to stir as desired.

What Is a Bar Spoon?

The barspoon is designed specifically for use in the bar and it should be considered an essential piece of your bar gear.

  • Bar spoons are typically between 12 and 15 inches long so they can reach the bottom of most glassware.
  • The spoon's bowl is thinner and smaller than the average kitchen spoon and sometimes it is more of a paddle shape. This small bowl allows you to stir drinks in almost any sized glass, including narrow ones filled with ice.
  • Some bar spoons have a few holes in the spoon that helps when layering drinks.
  • The long shaft of a bar spoon is often twisted to allow for easy twisting while stirring. If you want to get fancy, you can also pour liquors down the spiral while floating ingredients. That trick does take some practice, though.
  • Bar spoons are most often made of stainless steel, though some spoons are made with other metals. Stainless steel is the easiest to clean and maintain, which is why it's used to make so many bar tools.
  • Many bar spoons are weighted and the end opposite the spoon is heaviest. This adds balance and helps makes stirring smoother.
  • Many professional bartenders will give their bar spoons a little extra curve near the bowl. This is done by carefully bending the spoon just above the bowl so it has a bit more of a scoop. It's not necessary but helps give the tool a little more grab in the glass so it reaches beyond the edges.
  • If you don't have a bar spoon, use the longest spoon possible and slowly stir it around the glass while moving it up and down. Chopsticks and other long kitchen tools work in a pinch as well.

Barspoons do not have to be expensive. In most cases, you can pick one up for less than $10. You will find it useful beyond stirring drinks. For instance, it's a great tool for fishing cherries or olives out of a thin jar.