When to Shake, When to Stir

Sean Connery, the best James Bond in our opinion, said it best – “A martini, shaken, not stirred.” And so James Bond is to blame – if we’re looking for a scapegoat – for the confusion about all cocktails being shaken, not stirred.

Lest you start thinking that all cocktails should be shaken in the tradition of James Bond, you have another think coming! You will find that while there are cocktails that should be shaken – in a cocktail shaker, mind you – there are also cocktails that should only be stirred. When in doubt, look at the recipe for the cocktail and follow it.

Here, we take a look at the cocktails that should be shaken and stirred, not the other way around, for the best taste.

Shake It Like You Mean It

Purists and traditionalists in the bar scene are confounded by people shaking drinks that should be stirred, and it’s an understandable reaction because the resulting drinks don’t come out well. But when cocktails that should be shaken are stirred, the drinks are ruined beyond redemption.

Shaking ensures that every ingredient, from the liquor and liqueur to the fruits juices and soda, is completely integrated into the cocktail’s overall flavor. Shaking also breaks down more ice into the drink and, thus, it adds more water, a dilution that creates a well-balanced drink with a smooth flavor from one sip to the next.

When cocktails that should have been shaken aren’t, well, shaken, these become less enjoyable because the ingredients haven’t completely integrated. The first sip may be boozy, for example, while the next sips can be alternating between too citrusy and too bitter, with perhaps a hint of booze here and there. The drink tastes funky, if not incomplete, because the flavors may be there but these aren’t smoothly combined with each sip.

The general rule is that shaking should be applied to cocktails that contain cream liqueurs, fruit juices especially citrus fruits, sour mix, egg whites, milk, cream, and simple syrup, as well as other flavorful or thick mixers. Cocktails with herbs may also be shaken but there are exceptions.

The most commonly shaken cocktails include cosmopolitan (cranberry juice); chocolate martini (chocolate liqueur or cream); mai tai (a tiki drink with as many as 6 ingredients); New Orleans fizz (eggs); and Ward Eight (whiskey, lemon juice, and thick syrups). As with all cocktails, be sure to use premium ingredients like Chivas Regal for the best cocktails.

Shaking a drink isn’t for the weak of arms. You have to vigorously shake the cocktail shaker for as long as it takes for the ingredients to become fully integrated, which will depend on the ingredients used. The thicker the ingredients, the longer the shake will likely be, such as in the case of egg whites – first, shake until your one arm gets tired, strain the drink into another shaker, and shake again until your other arm gets tired, too.

Stir Until Smooth

Stirring is usually done for cocktails that contain either very light mixers or distilled spirits. Keep in mind that it’s a gentler technique of incorporating the flavors of the ingredients so cocktails with thick, heavy and flavorful ingredients shouldn’t be stirred. Plus, it lasts longer than the typical shake – at least 30 seconds for many drinks – so the wait may be longer.

Also, stirring cocktails isn’t your usual stir-it-with-spoon type. These tips should help you get a well-blended stirred cocktail:

  • Use a bar spoon, not just any spoon, because it’s designed for the purpose
  • Twist the bar spoon from its top only. The back of the spoon should go around the glass evenly.
  • Stir only as many times as necessary, usually just before the drink’s ingredients are smoothly incorporated; check the color, if you want.

The stirring technique should be such that the ingredients come together for a smooth, clear drink. The cocktail will also be chilled just enough to make it refreshing in the mouth yet it isn’t too diluted with the melting ice. The drink shouldn’t be cloudy either; otherwise, it’s a sign that it has been over-stirred.

Stirred cocktails include:

  • Manhattan, which has sweet vermouth and whiskey
  • Imperial cocktail, which has a delicate flavor profile suitable for stirring (i.e., it’s like gin martini except with maraschino cherry liqueur)
  • Negroni, which only includes liquors

With stirring, the likes of martinis and old-fashioneds will have a silky mouth-feel, a smooth flavor, and precise dilution, too.

Emphasis must be made that the above-mentioned rules of thumb are applicable to cocktails but not necessarily for mixed drinks, such as screwdriver and vodka tonic; the latter usually has recipes built directly into the glass and, thus, require only stirring to get the best flavors.

But what if you get lazy? Well, you won’t be getting the drink that you deserve, not to mention that it will be a waste of good liquor. Take the extra time – it’s likely just 30 seconds anyway – to properly shake or stir the cocktails and be rewarded for it.