The Why and How Of Shaking Cocktails

Most cocktails have been shaken, not stirred – and James Bond knows it, too. Thus, shaking is a basic bartending skill that every amateur bartender – or mixologist, if you want to be more ambitious – should learn and learn well. Once you have mastered it, your cocktails will become better – crisper, cooler and with the perfect blend of flavors and feel.

Reasons for Shaking Cocktails

Shaking is a fun step in creating cocktails, and many bartenders have made it into a display of their skill. But shaking isn’t just about the fun and show – it’s an essential step for the following reasons:

  • Mix thoroughly the ingredients in the cocktail and, thus, create a seamless blending of its different flavors.
  • Dilute the cocktail with water, usually from the ice cubes, so that its strength (i.e., alcohol content) can be decreased. The drink then becomes more pleasant in the mouth. The Malibu Rum, for example, can be unpleasant in the mouth but once diluted, it becomes more palatable.
  • Give the drink sufficient chill for it to be enjoyed more.

The dilution of the cocktail seems like a contradictory point for many people – the purpose of drinking alcoholic beverages, after all, is to get the kick so the stronger it is, the better its kick will be. Many people may even ask the bartender to, “Make it a strong one, please” for this reason.

But cocktails aren’t intended to give people a kick and get them drunk fast. If you want stronger drinks, then your best bets are beer and wine instead since these are best enjoyed without dilution (i.e., ice cubes); drink beer and wine according to their recommended temperatures, which can either be chilled or room temperature – no ice mixed with them, please.

There’s also the fact that cocktails made almost entirely of alcohol, such as most types of martinis, are in the 20-30 ABV range (40-60 proof). Even with the dilution, martinis still have high alcoholic content – just two drinks can make some people surprisingly tipsy. Don’t be fooled by the sweet taste of martinis because these still have quite a kick to them.

The bottom line: Shaking cocktails make the drinks more of an experience and less of a shock to your system.

Tips for Shaking Your Drinks

Don’t use just any container with a cover to shake your drinks! You have to invest in a cocktail shaker, either a two-piece Boston shaker that requires a separate strainer and a three-piece shaker with a built-in strainer. Aside from the shaker, you will obviously need the liqueurs, spirits, and mixers called for in the cocktail recipe.

You needn’t worry as shaking is an easy process – it doesn’t take a degree in mixology although it does require keeping a few tips in mind. You have to follow the basic steps in shaking, too, and add your own personal flair as you go along.

The basic steps are: (These steps are for the three-piece shaker)

  • Pour the ingredients into the shaker.
  • Fill the shaker with ice.
  • Cover the shaker with its lid.
  • Hold the shaker such that each hand holds one piece for a secure grip.
  • Shake the shaker vigorously over your shoulder for a slow count of ten. (Tip: Check if the outside of the shaker frosts up and stop shaking it)
  • Strain the cocktail into chilled glass.

If you’re using a Boston shaker, you have to use a separate strainer so that the cocktail poured into a chilled glass will have none of the chunky ingredients (e.g., mint). If you’re serving drinks on the rocks, you have to strain the drink over fresh ice.

These steps are easy enough even for a beginner. But if you want to get consistent, perhaps even professional, results, you should keep these tips in mind.

  • Fill the three-piece shaker halfway with ice cubes first. Just make sure that there’s enough room for the ingredients so it may be necessary to decrease the number of ice cubes in the shaker. Placing ice cubes first will chill the shaker and the ingredients as these are added.
  • Avoid overfilling the shaker. This way, the ingredients can move around, so to speak, and their flavors can blend well; the method also means little to no spills. Mix one cocktail at a time for a smaller shaker while an average shaker can be used o make 2-3 drinks.
  • Mix the ingredients in a mixing glass first before pouring into a Boston shaker. You will then be able to see the amount of liquid being poured and then adjust as needed. Place the ice cubes into the Boston shaker and follow with the ingredients from the mixing glass, then shake for 10 seconds or so.

The 10-second rule isn’t applicable to all cocktails. You may have to shake some drinks harder and longer, such as egg cocktails requiring at least 30 seconds of shaking.

And remember that you should shake it like you mean it – vigorous, fast and fun! You can shake to a beat, if you like, for as long as the ingredients are mixed thoroughly.