When Should You Stir Versus Shake a Cocktail?

How you mix a drink affects both its texture and appearance. Here are some ground rules to guide your agitation action.

When to Shake
• If the drink has fruit juice (that includes citrus). Dale DeGroff says in his book The Essential Cocktail that the tiny air bubbles created by shaking help cut the sweetness of juice.
• If the drink has cream or eggs in it. 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.

When to Stir
• If the drink is made only with spirits, such as a martini or a Manhattan. Stirring gives spirituous cocktails a smooth and heavy mouthfeel because it introduces less air than shaking. “If I want a drink to have a dense, silky sort of texture, I stir,” says Daniel Hyatt, bar manager of the Alembic in San Francisco. “Shaking adds air into the drink, creating a lighter texture.”
• If you want the drink to stay clear. Vigorous shaking will cause a cocktail to look cloudy.

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 Hyatt says ultimately 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?

More cocktail wisdom: A. J. Rathbun on stirring versus shaking, the right way to shake, cubed ice versus crushed ice, and the best order of cocktail ingredients.

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