When to Stir, When to Shake, and When to Rattle and Roll.
Cocktail culture can be intimidating. There are a lot of hip bars with even hipper bartenders inside, shaking and stirring up cocktails. There are spirits you’ve never heard of, obscure liqueurs and strange Amari lining the shelves and populating the cocktail menu.
Let’s be honest, sometimes you smile and nod like you’re in the know, even when you’re not. How many of us have secretly looked up an ingredient online before ordering, rather than just ask? Luckily, bartenders are a friendly bunch that, by and large, love to share and discuss their craft. Never hesitate to ask questions!
One question that is top-of-mind for many who are new to the cocktail world is when you should shake or stir a cocktail. Maybe an important question to understanding when to stir or shake is why we stir or shake. In other words, what does stirring do that shaking doesn’t, and vice versa?
If you’ve never seen a stirred cocktail poured before, try it yourself. A properly stirred cocktail should look viscous when it comes out of the mixing glass. It is almost velvety, and that’s exactly how your first sip should feel! Stirring allows ingredients that readily blend together to do so. It dilutes the cocktail, making it more palatable, while chilling your drink.
In contrast, a shaken cocktail should pour out looking a little carbonated or aerated. You might see ice chips floating around from aggressively shaking the cubes. Shaking creates this effect by breaking up the ice and chilling the cocktail, while also sloshing all of that delicious boozy mixture around. It makes for a frothy sipper rather than a velvety one. Importantly, shaking mixes certain ingredients together that, if stirred, would separate by the time you drink them. For example, you should shake drinks with citrus juice or egg whites. (Never stir eggs in a drink. Ever.)
A common rule of thumb is to shake if there's citrus, stir if there's not. If the cocktail ingredients are mostly, or entirely, spirits (such as in a Manhattan, Martini or Negroni), you should stir. If a cocktail includes juice (such as in a Margarita, Daiquiri or Cosmo), you should shake. However, some drinks should be neither shaken or stirred. A "long" drink that is large in volume and contains a mixer and other complementary ingredient, such as a Rum Punch or Hot Toddy, won't be shaken or stirred. You also wouldn't want to shake a drink with bubbles or carbonation. If you’re not sure how to prepare a specific drink, you can follow the guidance here, or sneak a quick look online!
That was pretty easy, right? Now that you know when to shake or stir, you're ready to rattle and roll out some super tasty cocktails, just like a true home-bar hipster. Happy mixing!
Originally published August 22, 2019. Edited and updated on February 7, 2022.