Cocktails: When to Stir and When to Shake

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Aerial shot stirred drinks

I kind of hate to admit it, because I like to think of myself as a free-spirited, anything-goes type of person, but the truth is I’m a rule follower. It gratifies the Virgo in me to know that there is some order to the universe. For instance, if there is a line forming at a checkout counter and some wise guy decides to create another one or sneakily jumps the line entirely, I’m usually the first one to speak up. Yep, I’m that person. “There are rules here, guy!”

There are, of course, exceptions to a lot of rules, but I’m of the mind that it is only when you know the rules inside and out that you are allowed to break them. Take, for example, shaken martinis. People certainly have a lot of opinions about whether or not to shake or stir a martini. Why? Because shaking a martini goes against the rules of cocktail making. But if James Bond likes them shaken, they can’t be all that bad.

So what are the rules of shaking and stirring a cocktail, anyway?

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The general rule of thumb is that when you have an all-spirit cocktail, like a Manhattan, Sazerac, Negroni or Martini, you stir the mixture over ice until it is well-chilled. As soon as you start adding other ingredients that are not spirits, such as juice, syrup, cream or egg, however, it is shake city. All “sour cocktails,” like margaritas, daiquiris or sidecars, get a good, hard 8- to 10-second shake. Creamy or eggy cocktails get some extra shakes to truly emulsify those hard-to-mix ingredients.

Shaking a cocktail is about blending all of the components, as well as chilling the cocktail and releasing some water from the ice. Stirring an all-spirit cocktail chills it as much as a good hard shake, but without imparting as much water from the ice.

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But what if you want to pull a James Bond and have your martini shaken? Listen, you can do whatever you want. If you prefer your martini a little watered down, and you enjoy those little ice crystals that can form after a good shake, you should be able to enjoy it any which way. There are recipes dating back to the late 1800s that call for both shaken and stirred Manhattans. Drinks historian David Wondrich calls for a shake with cracked ice for his Negroni recipe, and I’ve been seeing this approach more and more lately.

Stirring cocktails

There are always exceptions and personal preferences. The only real rule is that you know the rules first. Try the drinks the way they were intended. Then you can shake things up, so to speak. Except the egg thing: If there is egg white or yolk involved, you want to shake that sucker until your arms hurt and your fingers burn from the cold, if necessary. No one wants a non-emulsified egg floating around in their cocktail.

Here are two cocktail recipes you can try at home: one shaken and one stirred!

drinkSidecar

  • 1 1/2 ounces Cognac
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake 8 to 10 seconds, until the outside of the shaker is well chilled. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
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Manhattan

  • 2 ounces rye whiskey
  • 1 ounce vermouth
  • 3 to 4 dashes aromatic bitters

Add the ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass. Stir quickly but gently for 20 to 25 seconds, until the mixture is well-chilled. Strain into a chilled cocktail or rocks glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Photo credit: Prairie Rose

 

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