When should a cocktail be shaken, and when should it be stirred? It's one of the bar's burning questions and one of much debate, especially when talking about the famous martini. There is a general rule (as "rules" go in bartending, anyway): Stir spirit-only drinks and shake any cocktail with mixers. There are always exceptions, so it is best to follow a recipe's instructions or experiment with both to see which technique makes the best cocktail in your eyes.
When to Shake Cocktails
The rules say that you should shake cocktails when the recipe includes fruit juices, cream liqueurs, simple syrup, sour mix, egg, dairy, or any other thick or flavorful nonalcoholic mixers. Essentially, use the shake whenever you need to ensure that every ingredient (including tart citrus juice) is fully integrated into the finished drink's flavor. It's also vital when a drink's ingredients (e.g., cream ingredients) have the potential to separate.
Shaking a cocktail aerates the drink and gives it a cloudy, effervescent look at first. This will clear up within a few minutes after straining. Shaking pineapple juice temporarily creates a foamy top, while shaken egg white drinks have a luscious, thick foam that lasts a long time.
Due to the more violent nature of the shake, this method will also break down more ice. The strained cocktail will have ice shards on top and add a greater amount of water to the drink. Dilution is actually a good thing because it creates a well-balanced cocktail in which all the ingredients become one flavor.
Shake most drinks for 15 to 20 seconds, and egg cocktails for at least 30 seconds or until your arms hurt. If a cocktail is served on the rocks, strain the drink over fresh ice. Only in rare instances is the shaker ice poured into the glass because it is broken down so much that it dilutes too quickly.
Shaken cocktails to try:
- Cosmopolitan: The cosmopolitan is shaken because the agitation marries the tart lime with the sweetness of cranberry juice and orange liqueur.
- Mai Tai: This classic tiki cocktail uses as many as six ingredients, depending on the recipe. That's a lot of flavors that need to become one, which makes shaking essential.
- New Orleans Fizz: This recipe includes both egg and dairy, so shaking is your only option. In fact, egg drinks are best when shaken without ice (called a dry shake), then shaken a second time with ice to ensure the egg is completely broken up.
- Ward Eight: Whiskey is the only liquor in this cocktail. Shaking it ensures that the lemon and orange juices are fully integrated with the thick grenadine syrup.
When to Stir Cocktails
Stir cocktails that include only distilled spirits or very light mixers (including bitters). Stirring is a gentler technique for mixing cocktails, though it's often done for at least 30 seconds, which is longer than the typical shake. It is used to delicately combine the drinks to create a crystal-clear cocktail with a perfect amount of dilution from the ice.
Many gin and whiskey cocktails are stirred because shaking is said to "bruise" the spirit (though that is also up for debate). A better theory is that stirring produces a silkier mouthfeel, which is ideal for booze-heavy drinks.
The long handle of a bar spoon allows for the perfect stirring technique. Hold the spoon at the very top, swirling it around and around (not up and down) with a smooth, circular motion of your wrist. If your arm is moving, you're making it more difficult and inefficient.
Stirred cocktails to try:
- Imperial Cocktail: A classic recipe, this enhanced gin martini includes maraschino liqueur. To retain the delicate balance of flavor, it's best stirred.
- Manhattan: Two ingredients—whiskey and sweet vermouth—make the Manhattan a perfect candidate for stirring.
- Negroni: This recipe is built in the glass over ice, and it only includes liquors. For this reason, it's best stirred.
The Pursuit of Better Drinks
This shaken versus stirred "rule" refers to cocktails and not necessarily mixed drinks, which are built directly in the glass (think vodka cranberry and screwdriver). These are almost always stirred and served with a straw for further fine-tuned stirring as the drink is consumed.
The point of either shaking or stirring (beyond mixing the ingredients, of course) is to add dilution from the ice. If either technique is done properly, the agitation will add the perfect amount of ice-cold water and bring the flavor of your cocktails into balance.
Don't skip either, thinking that the shortcut will produce an equally good drink. Take an extra minute of your time to mix your cocktails properly, and you will have a much more enjoyable drink.
Should Carbonated Beverages Be Shaken?
Soda, beer, and sparkling wine are rarely shaken for a couple of very good reasons. Most important is the fact that shaking causes carbonated beverages to foam up uncontrollably. If you have ever cracked open a shaken soda or beer can, you know the mess involved. Secondly, excess agitation breaks up the carbonation, and the drink will go flat more quickly.
- For shaken cocktails, the best approach is to shake the other ingredients and then top the strained drink with the fizzy ingredient.
- Mixed drinks with these ingredients, such as the gin and tonic, are best stirred in the glass.