Shaken or stirred—which is the better way to make a cocktail? Well, that depends on exactly what’s in it. The mixing method will affect both the texture and appearance, and possibly even the taste, of the drink. There are some ground rules on when it’s best to shake vs stir. So whether you’re gearing up for a quiet weekend at home or preparing to host a cocktail party for a crowd, here’s what you need to know about mixing drinks.
When to Shake a Cocktail
• If the drink has cream or eggs in it, shake it up. A. J. Rathbun, author of “Dark Spirits,” notes that shaking is a more aggressive form of mixing, which is what it takes to combine thicker ingredients like eggs or cream with liquor. Read more about using eggs in cocktails.
• Shaking alcohol and other ingredients with ice can also serve to chill drinks that will be strained into glasses and served without ice. (But when you shake the ingredients without any ice, that’s known as a “dry shake.”)
When to Stir a Cocktail
• If the drink is made only with spirits, such as a martini, Old Fashioned, or Manhattan, pass on the shaker. Stirring gives spirituous cocktails a smooth and heavy mouthfeel because it introduces less air than shaking. You’ll get a dense and silky sort of texture when you stir, and something lighter if you shake.
• If you want the drink to stay clear, simply stir. Vigorous shaking will cause a cocktail to look cloudy. (Of course, you can also make clarified cocktails, which is on a whole other level.)
• If a drink says it’s “built in the glass,” that means it’s simply stirred together in the same glass you drink it out of—like a classic gin and tonic. For some stirred drinks, like a Manhattan, you stir the ingredients together in a separate mixing glass (or any old pint glass from your cabinet) with ice, then strain it into a chilled glass and serve it neat.
Cocktail Mixing Glass, $16.95 on Amazon
An elegant cocktail mixing glass is nice to have on hand for your home bar.
When (and How) to Roll a Cocktail
There is also a third mixing technique called rolling, where you pour the drink and ice between two glasses or mixing tins. It’s the middle ground: a vigorous mixing, yet not too much froth going on. It’s DeGroff’s preferred method for mixing Bloody Marys. Some people think that shaking causes more dilution, but in fact, dilution is a product of how long you stir or shake, not so much which method you use.
While these are generally accepted guidelines, in the end, shaking or stirring still comes down to personal preference. What sort of suicidal bartender would try to argue with James Bond when he asks for a shaken martini?
Of course, there’s a lot more to learn about cocktails other than the basic method of mixing them, starting with how they got their name. Then you might like to know about specific spirits—like, how do you use Chartreuse, or what’s the difference between bourbon and whiskey? Have you heard of baijiu, or explored the world of Indian whisky? And what about sustainable cocktails, or CBD cocktails?
Oh, and don’t forget about low-alcohol drinks and mocktails, either. Clearly, there’s a lot to sip on—check out all our cocktail recipes to try and narrow it down, or seek our one of these essential cocktail books for home bartenders. Cheers!
Related Video: A Top Bartender Reveals Her Top Five Tools
This post was originally published in 2009 and has been updated with new images, links, and text.