When to Shake, When to Stir: Or, How James Bond Destroyed Drinks

updated May 1, 2019
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“A martini, shaken, not stirred,” instructs Sean Connery’s 007 in Goldfinger.

An iconic line uttered by an even more iconic character. This oft-repeated quote has confused cocktail enthusiasts ever since. Do you understand when to shake, and when to stir a cocktail? Let’s shake it out.

Whether you shake or you stir boils down to tradition and logic, “often at the expense of one another,” says Elliot Ball, co-founder of The Cocktail Trading Company’s The Development Bar & Table in London.

Aaron Gersonde, co-owner of Milwaukee’s Movida bar and restaurant is more blunt. “James Bond destroyed drinks,” Aaron told me as I sat down to a cocktail tutorial with him and bartender Nick Cuellar. “It is a misconception that you should just shake everything.”

“We get this all the time,” Nick adds. “Why are there no ice shards in my martini?”

The Drinks to Stir

Martinis, Manhattans, Old-Fashioneds — basically any booze-forward drink should be stirred. Stirring these drinks produces “a silky mouth-feel with precise dilution and perfect clarity,” Elliot says. Shaking adds texture and aeration, changes the mouth-feel and binds ingredients that would readily separate with simple stirring, says Trevor Schneider, Reyka Vodka’s U.S. brand ambassador.

But James Bond and even Tom Cruise’s kitschy bartender in Cocktail have influenced people to shake drinks that should be stirred.

How to stir a drink: When you properly stir a drink – twisting the bar spoon from the top so that that back of the spoon goes around the glass evenly – the components come together, the temperature of the cocktail chills, but the drink’s components aren’t diluted with melting ice, and the drink doesn’t get cloudy. The result is a clear, spirit-strong cocktail.

Stir Up a Classic

The Drinks to Shake

While shaking drinks that should be stirred confounds purists, stirring cocktails that require shaking actually ruins them. If you don’t shake ingredients that need to bind together, one sip might be boozy, the next citrus-puckering and the third a mouthful of bitters. “All the flavors are there, but the drink tastes incomplete,” Nick says. “The ingredients separate, depending on how you tilt the glass.”

You need to shake drinks that contain cream, egg whites and juices, especially citrus. Drinks with herbs can also be shaken, and double straining with a tea strainer after shaking is also recommended.

How to shake a drink: There are three kinds of shakes. A super short shake will chill a shot or make a French 75 (and the Champagne is never shaken in this drink, unless you want a foamy mess). That’s a one-two shake and pour, Nick explains. Most juice-centric drinks require short shakes or the count of five Mississippis.

Egg white shakes belong to a class all their own. (Read about egg whites in cocktails.) “First I shake it until my arm gets tired, then I strain it into another shaker, and I shake until my other arm gets tired,” Nick says.

The exact length of shaking varies from bartender to bartender, Trevor says, adding that it’s important to keep the egg whites separated from other ingredients until just before shaking. “I also generally dry shake it first,” he says, and a dry shake is when you shake all the ingredients together except for the ice.

Shake Up a Good One

Still, customers are growing more educated. “We’re seeing a lot more stirring because it’s the new cool,” Elliot says. “Shaking is associated with Tom Cruise, stirring is a little classier.”