The choice you make to this age-old question will have a dramatic effect on your cocktails.
BY JAMES CLELAND, Mixologist for Boardroom Spirits
“Can I tell you what’s messed up about James Bond? Shaken not stirred will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.” — President Bartlett, West Wing (Martin Sheen)
When should you shake a cocktail and when should you stir it?
One of the most common misconceptions is that shaking and stirring a cocktail are interchangeable techniques. The reality is that there’s a time and place for each. Here’s how to tell the difference.
Shaking should be used in one of two scenarios. The first is when liquids have with drastically different viscosities such as egg whites, oils, or pretty much anything that is opaque. In this scenario, shaking allows the cocktail ingredients to better emulsify. The second is when the cocktail uses a citrus or juice of pretty much any type. In this scenario, shaking adds aeration, emulsification, and agitation.
Stirring, on the other hand, is a gentler process that allows similar liquids (in this case alcohols and sugars) to meld together in a more harmonious fashion. While this sounds like fancy mixologist theory, it’s easy for anyone to tell the difference when you compare the two techniques side by side.
Shaking is a much more violent technique than stirring. When shaking vigorously, you’re breaking down more ice and create a higher rate of dilution. When applied in the right scenario, shaking can thin out the texture of a drink, evenly incorporate the flavors, and add more complexity and brightness. On the other hand, if used in the wrong application, it can dull and unbalance a cocktail and make the texture unpleasant.
Stirring when applied to the right scenario of spirit forward cocktails, like the martini, Manhattan, or old fashioned, will create a more flavorful and brighter cocktail because this technique does not dull the aromas and the flavors of the alcohol as much as shaking. The dilution of the ice is more gently and less rapidly incorporated into the cocktail. For example, you generally shake a cocktail for 8-10 seconds while stirring for 20-30 seconds. However, much like shaking, when applied in the wrong scenario stirring can create an unbalanced cocktail that may be overly sweet and bland.
WHEN TO SHAKE, WHEN TO STIR
While these rules are good practices that does not mean they are unbreakable. Small amounts of citrus (generally less than ¼ oz) can be stirred without damaging integrity. Sometimes, various viscous liqueurs might need the thinning, dulling effect of shaking. The most important point to remember is that no “rule” in cocktails is law; it’s more of a guideline. If you think the flavor is right but the texture is wrong, try changing the preparation.
Try both stirred and shaken cocktails in the recipes below and see the difference yourself.
CLASSIC GIN MARTINI
2 oz London dry gin (Beefeater)
1 oz dry vermouth (Dolin Dry)
1 dash orange bitters (Reagan’s No. 5)
Stirred, served up
2 oz London dry gin (Beefeater)
1 oz fresh lime juice
¾ oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar:water)
Shaken and strained, served up
James Cleland is a mixologist “responsible for customer delight” at the Boardroom Spirits distillery in Lansdale, PA. Boardroom Spirits is devoted to making high-quality hand-crafted spirits in a sustainable manner. To learn more, click HERE.