The difference between Thrown, Stirred and Shaken Cocktails

One of the many burning questions at the bar…When should a cocktail be shaken and when should it be stirred?

There are many components that make up great cocktails; quality spirits, proper measurements, the right kind and amount of ice..but then what do you do with it?

Generally speaking these are the ‘rules’

  • Cocktails with citrus and fruit juices are generally shaken to better incorporate the juices, sweeteners and spirits
  • With cocktails that are spirits, liqueurs and fortified wines only (this includes your, Manhattan, Martini, Old Fashioned, Negroni, they should be stirred, not shaken, because over-oxidation makes the whole inferior to the sum of the parts. But for those with other mixers, oxidation makes the whole greater.

There are of course exceptions and caveats. I hear you say; what if I build my drink in a glass?

Yes, valid point, many built drinks incorporate citrus sweetener element, your Moscow Mule or Dark and Stormy. These both benefit from light stirring rather than being shaken cocktails, this is partly due to their soda element (and they are built in the glass from which they are consumed)

One more note and another curve ball…never shake a Bloody Mary..this thins the tomato juice and just isn’t the done thing!

Perhaps no aspect of the bartender’s craft has come under more scrutiny in the past decade than the shake. Putting ingredients into a mixing glass or Boston shaker with ice, and giving it a shake to blend, chill and dilute the ingredients.

There are only 3 real reasons to have a shaken cocktail:Frosted-Shaker

  1. If there is citrus juice in it- in a citrus cocktail you want to add air bubbles into the drink so it goes cloudy and looks tasty
  2. When there are egg whites in it – Some cocktail recipes now mix an egg white in it. This you must shake to make a delicious velvety mouthfeel and a pretty white foam on top – check out the Casita Club cocktail recipe in our Bramble kit – it’s so delicious
  3. If there is cream in it – you would shake it to incorporate air bubbles and make it light and frothy. E.g your classic Brandy Alexander – Sometimes you’ll “float” cream on a drink, in which case it is left out of the shaker and added last.

Tips for Shaken Cocktails

  • A good 10-15 second hard shake (or, as cocktail historian Dave Wondrich likes to say, “shake the hell out of it”), unless otherwise instructed.
  • The Ice in the shake is just as important as in the stir…Don’t over-shake, or you’ll over dilute. With small ice cubes or “slushy” ones (a bit watery, not super frozen), cut your shake time down accordingly.
  • Cocktails that have a lengthener at the end should be shaken less to avoid too much dilution as you’ll be topping it with soda, Champagne, etc

Stirred cocktailSo when do you stir a cocktail?

All the other times…but in short: Shake for citrus, Stir for Spirits.  Now go and stir yourself a Martini..stop letting a fictional spy tell you what to do, you may be surprised by the results!

And finally..throwing a cocktail

This method has been around for years and is achieved by pouring the ingredients from one vessel to another, one held above the other held as low as possible. Check out how to throw a cocktail here and get practising.

You will see many bartenders nowadays shaking most cocktails, this may be due to ease, speed, presentation, preference, or because their bar crowd expects them to. However if you want to make the best flavoured cocktails its best to stick with what we’ve said above, and you can always achieve this if you’re making them yourself anyway!

Buy your very own Mixologist Equipment Kit here to try all three methods at home.

Image credit: Food 52 and Kegworks