The cocktail shaker is a simple, affordable bartending tool. It can create superior cocktails and open up a new world of drink recipes to mix up at home.
If shaking drinks seems unnecessary or a hassle that takes too much time, and you're accustomed to building drinks directly in the glass, now is a great time to step up your cocktail game. With the first drink you shake, you'll notice a significant improvement in your cocktails. You'll also be able to replicate the taste of the drinks that professional bartenders craft every day in bars.
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A Better Mix of Flavors
The primary purpose of shaking cocktails is to completely integrate all of the drink's ingredients to create one beautiful blend of flavor. The shake is the most thorough way to mix drinks, and—as you may have noticed—most cocktail recipes recommend this technique.
In some cases, you can get away with simply pouring and stirring a drink directly in the glass—this is called "building" a drink. However, there are noticeable differences in a side-by-side comparison between a stirred and shaken version of the same mix. Not only does the shake mix ingredients more thoroughly, but it aerates the cocktail. This simultaneously relaxes the alcohol burn while adding character. In many instances, a shaken alcoholic drink can be more drinkable.
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Proper Dilution vs. Watered Down
The secondary benefit of shaking is proper dilution. The amount of time that a drink interacts with ice during the shake is just long enough to add the perfect amount of water to the mix. This results in a smoother-tasting cocktail.
It never fails (especially in warm weather) that the end of an ice-filled drink is watered down and almost tasteless. If you were to shake the same drink and serve it without ice, the taste (if not the temperature) would remain consistent from beginning to end.
That does not discredit the appeal of highballs and lowballs (e.g., the Tom Collins, mint julep, Vieux Carré, etc.) that rely on a glass full of ice. However, when advocating for "up" drinks, the ice-cold refreshment found in a 10-second shake cannot be understated.
It's also important to keep in mind the strength of a cocktail; a properly shaken or stirred drink adds as much as 1/2 ounce of water. Many martini-style cocktails are stiff drinks, averaging about 20 percent alcohol by volume (40 proof). Drinking two of these equals a straight shot of hard liquor. If you were to skip the ice, a cocktail like a vodka martini would be 35 percent ABV (70 proof), rather than the slightly softer 28 percent ABV (56 proof). While the numbers may seem insignificant, the effects on your body and how quickly you get drunk are not.
Slow the In-Glass Dilution
Keeping any drink cold with minimal dilution is not difficult. Try using regular ice cubes in your shaker and straining it over a large ice chunk like an ice ball. These will melt slower and dilute your drink less than small cubes. Another option is to use prechilled whiskey stones, which will keep drinks cold with no extra water.
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Breakaway from the standard mixed drink and enjoy a martini or two! Without a shaker, you cannot enjoy any martini the way it is meant to be, and you're restricting yourself from the pleasure of this fantastic, diverse group of cocktails.
Mixing martinis is not challenging. They're made the same way as mixed drinks but require two extra steps: Shake or stir and strain. The majority of martinis that include fruit juice, cream, or other nonalcoholic mixers are shaken, and those that are stirred will at least need a strainer to remove the ice. Both techniques can be executed in a cocktail shaker, and if you want to make martinis, there are no excuses for not having one.
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Diversify Your Drinks
Looking beyond the many drinks dubbed "martinis," you will find that a cocktail shaker opens up a whole new set of cocktails to explore. If crafting and perfecting drinks of all kinds is your desire, then a shaker is required.
The flavor blending and dilution benefits are just the beginning as to why bartenders shake drinks. It's not just about looking cool behind the bar, either. Quite simply, the majority of cocktails simply taste better when shaken.
Some drinks rely on the shake for very specific reasons:
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- Ingredients like pineapple juice and eggs add a foam texture that only comes with a vigorous shaking session. Without the shake, you miss out on great drinks like a fresh Piña Colada, New Orleans fizz, and pisco sour.
- Creamy drinks are often too heavy without a good shake.
- Even fruit juices like cranberry need a little lightening up (a point that any cosmopolitan lover will agree with).
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It's Worth the Time
The time involved may be one of the biggest issues that people have with using a cocktail shaker. It may take you longer to shake rather than pour your drinks at first. With practice and experience, it becomes second nature, and you'll be able to shake up a perfect drink just as quickly.
There is the cleanup issue as well, but again, you will likely find the quality of your cocktails offsets that slight inconvenience. For many cocktails, you can often get away with a quick rinse in between drinks. The exception is when mixing with pungent ingredients like absinthe or hot peppers, which require a good wash to ensure the flavors don't carry over to the next cocktail.
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It Looks Cool (and Is a Workout!)
You want to look cool, right? Beyond the bottle-flipping bartenders, shaking a cocktail is the coolest bar technique that anyone can do. Have fun with it, be confident, and develop your own shaking style. Some bartenders play it cool, some make it look painful, and everyone has a "shaker face." Mixing cocktails should be as much fun as drinking them, and shaking is the ultimate way to play it up.
Not only does your shaking add a little flair to your personal image, but it is a great workout for your arms.
Is a Cocktail Shaker Worth the Price?
For some people, it is a cost or use issue. Do you want to spend $20 to $50 on another tool that you may or may not use? If this is your last hesitation, give a cheap shaker a try to see if you like the difference in your drinks and if it really does fit your lifestyle.
You will often find low-priced plastic cocktail shakers in liquor stores. These are not recommended for long-term use, but they are an inexpensive way to test out a shaker. Alternatively, if you have one around, try shaking drinks in a Mason jar (if you're careful, the lid can be used as a strainer to hold back the ice). You can always upgrade to a good cocktail shaker later if you get hooked on the shake.