Do you know how to stir a cocktail correctly? 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, if you put it into practice, your cocktails' quality will improve.
When to Stir a Cocktail
Stirring may seem like a simple thing that you mastered when you were a kid, and it is. However, its purpose in mixology is important and requires a bit more attention. When you stir drinks, the goal is to gently combine the ingredients and dissolve enough ice to water down the potent mix. This softens the alcohol's flavor, making it more palatable and enjoyable for the drinker, and creates a uniform flavor in the drink.
Stirring is a gentler mixing technique than shaking. There are two times when stirring is generally preferred:
- Drinks are typically stirred when they contain distilled spirits only. Though some drinkers prefer them shaken, spirit-forward cocktails like martinis and Manhattans are perfect examples of drinks that are often best when stirred.
- You will also stir when building a mixed drink directly in the serving glass. This is used for many highball and lowball drinks like the whiskey ginger and white Russian. Proper stirring technique and time are not critical in these drinks. Bartenders will either leave the drink as is or give it a quick stir and give the drinker a straw to stir as desired.
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 liquid all over the bar. Instead keep it slow, smooth, and steady; be patient and go with the flow.
Chill a mixing glass or stirring pitcher by placing it in the refrigerator or freezer. (The base of a cocktail shaker or a pint glass works, too.) Alternatively, fill it with ice and cold water, stir it for a quick chill, then discard the ice water.
Add the liquors and mixers, and fill the glass two-thirds full of ice.
Hold a bar spoon with your thumb and first two fingers toward the top of the shaft, weaving it between your middle and ring fingers for stability. A tight grip should not be necessary.
Place the bar spoon into the ice so the back of the spoon rests against the glass. Some bartenders go only an inch or two into the ice and barely touch the liquid, while others slide it almost to the bottom.
Use your fingers to move the spoon around the edge of the glass to rotate the ice. Let your fingers do the work; your arm should be still, and your wrist should barely move.
Strain the drink into a well-chilled glass appropriate for the cocktail.
How Long Should a Cocktail Be Stirred?
The general rule is to stir a cocktail for at least 30 seconds, or about 50 rotations around the glass. You can stir for longer—some bartenders prefer to stir martinis for a full minute or more. Thirty seconds is sufficient to chill the drink, and the length of time really depends on how much you want to soften the flavor.
Water is an essential ingredient in cocktails. It is not listed in a cocktail recipe's ingredients because it comes from the ice (that's why it's important to use clean ice when mixing drinks). The longer you stir, the more diluted the drink becomes. Stirring with smaller pieces of ice will add more dilution and require shorter stirring times than when you use standard ice cubes.
Dilution is good, particularly with drinks that are made entirely of alcohol. Stirring for 30 seconds adds around an ounce of water, which helps knock the alcohol content of powerful drinks down. The water also marries the drink's flavors and opens up the more subtle aromas and flavors that might otherwise be overpowered by the alcohol. It's the same theory behind adding water to whiskey.
Everyone's taste preference and stirring style are different, so experiment to discover how long to mix your cocktails. For instance, stir a Negroni for 30 seconds and taste it, then give it another 10 seconds and compare the difference. Some drinks with strong flavors like Campari may need a few extra spins around the glass.
- A julep strainer is preferred for stirred cocktails because it holds back all of the ice and creates a clearer drink. A hawthorne strainer works just fine.
- For stirred or shaken drinks served on the rocks, always strain over fresh ice in the glass. The mixing ice is broken down by agitation and will dilute faster, so it rarely makes it into the final cocktail.
What Is a Bar Spoon?
The bar spoon is designed specifically for use in the bar, and it should be considered an essential piece of your bar gear. They're typically inexpensive and useful beyond stirring drinks. For instance, it's a great tool for fishing cherries or olives out of a thin jar.
- Bar spoons are 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; some are 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 twisted, making it spin easier while stirring. If you want to get fancy, you can also pour liquors down the spiral while floating ingredients, though this trick takes some practice.
- Bar spoons are most often made of stainless steel because it's easiest to clean and maintain.
- Many bar spoons are counterweighted, and the end opposite the spoon is the heaviest. This adds balance and makes stirring smoother. The tip may also have a flat top that's useful for muddling light ingredients like herbs or a trident to skewer garnishes.
- 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. 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, thinnest spoon possible. Chopsticks and other long kitchen tools work in a pinch as well.