Mixing Cocktails: When to Shake and When to Stir

Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

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"Now a Manhattan you always shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry Martini you always shake to waltz time." - The Thin Man (1934)

"A medium dry Martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred." - Dr. No (1962)

James Bond. Nick Charles. Although you might admire the style and wit of these legendary cinematic drinkers, you won’t necessarily want to copy their mixing techniques. To get the very best results from your bar ingredients, here's a quick guide to when to shake, when to stir, and when to "build" your drinks:

Shaking

When?
If preparing a mixed drink containing fruit juice, cream, or eggs (but no soda or other carbonated mixers).

Why?
Shaking introduces tiny air bubbles into the mixture. This gives drinks containing fruit juice a slightly frothy appearance, and those containing egg whites a foamy, meringue-like head.

Examples
Margarita, Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Whiskey Sour, Ramos Gin Fizz (here, club soda is added after shaking is complete)

Technique
Place ingredients in cocktail shaker. Add ice to fill halfway (I generally use about half a tray of ice). Shake thoroughly - I’ll do it for about 30 seconds for a Margarita or a Daiquiri (a Ramos Gin Fizz, on the other hand, is at the extreme end of the spectrum and calls for up to 5 minutes). Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish. (Next week, we’ll be taking a closer look at the two kinds of cocktail shakers: the Boston (pictured above, right) and the cobbler (pictured above, left), with step by step instructions for using each.)

Stirring

When?
If preparing a drink that contains all-alcoholic ingredients (a true "cocktail" in the historical sense of the term).

Why?
No air bubbles or little shards of ice to cloud the clarity of the drink.

Examples
Martini, Manhattan

Technique
Place all ingredients in bottom part of cocktail shaker (or cocktail pitcher or mixing glass), fill shaker with ice cubes, about 3/4 full (I’ll often use close to a full tray of ice for the job). Stir with a bar spoon (a long-handled spoon which traditionally has a twisted handle (see pic above), although any long spoon will do in a pinch). Let the mixture “rest” 30 seconds or so in order to allow the alcohol to chill and the ice to melt slightly, creating dilution, then stir again. Strain into a cocktail glass and add garnish.

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Building (or '"Pouring")

When?
If the drink contains a carbonated ingredient such as soda (i.e., a highball).

Why?
Just a quick stir is all that's needed to blend the ingredients. Because the drink is to be served "on the rocks," there's no need to strain out the ice. This simple, one-step approach of combining alcoholic and carbonated ingredients directly in the drinking glass ensures the drink's fizziness isn't compromised by over-handling.

Examples
Gin and Tonic, Dark and Stormy, Vodka and Soda

Technique
Add all ingredients to the glass and gently stir with ice.

Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.

Related: How to Make the Best Ice Cubes for Summer Cocktails

(Images: Nora Maynard)

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