Bartenders Tips: Shaken or Stirred?

I get asked a lot of questions about bartending. What is my favorite cocktail to make? What is my favorite cocktail to drink? What ingredient is that? However, the one of the questions that I get asked the most is how do I know when to shake a drink vs how do I know when to stir the drink?

 Many people in the service industry have been taught that if a drink is served up in a glass with a stem and no ice, it should be shaken. While drinks served over ice should be stirred. However, that is not always the case. 

Which Manhattan looks more appealing to you?

According to one source, author Michael Dietsch of Shrubs and A Dash of Bitters fame, the answer has to do with what is being mixed. 

"Shake any drink that contains juice, dairy, or eggs. These ingredients generally look better in a glass and have a better mouthfeel when they're foamy." He continues to say that bartenders should "stir any drink that is made from just spirits -- including the Manhattan, Martini, Rob Roy or most variations on the Brooklyn."

When I am learning about aspects of making cocktails I care as much about the why as I do the how. So I want to know why I am doing something a specific way. 

According to Dietsch there are three main goals when mixing a cocktail:

1. Blending the Ingredients

2. Chilling the Drink to the proper temperature

3. Diluting the drink to the proper level of dilution.

Shaking cocktails is a more efficient way to chill and dilute cocktails because of the violence of the ice in the shaker. The rattling of the ice breaks down quicker and introduces more water into the drink. Some studies have shown that shaking a cocktail cuts the proof of the drink nearly in half. 

Stirring cocktails keeps the dilution to a minimum and chills the drink enough for consumption. It also keeps cocktails from looking cloudy or foamy. 

There is one school of thought that shaking cocktails also changes the complexion of the taste of the spirit. Some call this "bruising" the alcohol. However, that theory has been discounted more recently. What is actually happening when a cocktail is shaken, more water is being introduced into the drink thus making it taste slightly different. 

So while we all remember how James Bond orders his martinis, some would say "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." 

Shaken (left) vs Stirred (right), you be the judge. 

Ross ColemanComment