Because tonight’s cocktail was just an enjoyable variant of the Upper West Side, I thought I’d talk briefly about the age-old question of shaken or stirred, which for some is a matter equal in importance to bathroom standards such as seat up or down and paper out or in; whereas for others it rises to the level of metaphysics.
At risk of advocating relativism, then, I say that the right way to mix a cocktail is a matter of preference. But as in most matters of preference, we should ensure that when mixing for others, we inquire as to their preference rather than imposing our own. So this is the most important factor. Note also that there may be some cocktails you prefer shaken, others stirred. That is also up to you.
That said, there are some important things to know, which might help you decide for yourself. This FAQ, while aimed at the Martini and engaging in what is no less than a debate between nominalism and conceptualism, provides some useful facts:
- A lot of ice melts during mixing of any kind. About 20% of the cocktail is water from the melted ice. This is ultimately good, as it helps to blend the spirits, but it means you want to have good quality ice.
- Shaking produces ice chips that float on the top of the cocktail. This is a matter of taste as to whether it is a good thing.
- For several reasons, shaking tends to create a cloudy appearance in the drink. Again, a matter of taste.
- Shaking chills the drink faster. If you are impatient, you must shake, because the drink must be cold.
My own preference, since you asked, is that I mix the drink in a shaker and then shake it horizontally in a circular fashion, which is mostly like stirring but is somewhat more convenient and also obtains some of the benefits of shaking in that it cools faster. Will, I believe, likes to shake drinks vigorously.
Once again, here are the rules you should follow:
- Learn how you like them, and make them that way.
- Ask your guests how they like them, and make them that way.
- Use fresh ice made from good water, because the water from the ice is one of the ingredients of the cocktail.
February 6, 2013 at 11:18 pm
Dave covers some great ground here. As he says, it’s a matter of personal taste. I’ll add a couple of other thoughts . . .
– If you have juice, dairy or, God forbid, eggs in your drink, you should shake and not stir. The frothy texture enforces the integration of the ingredients.
– Shaking gives a drink a sharper, more vibrant flavor. For this reason, drinks that are bitter to start with are generally stirred to avoid enhancing the bitter flavor and to create a smoother texture and taste (I just learned this the other night).
Finally, whether you shake or stir, you should be conscious of how much water you’re adding to the drink. As Dave says, adding water is good and helps mix the drink. Keep in mind, though, that water tends to suppress sweet tastes more than bitter ones. So, the more water that dissolves in the drink, the more a bitter taste will be enhanced. Think about that when you’re slowly drinking a Negroni. It gets even more bitter as the ice melts.
February 6, 2013 at 11:20 pm
Oh, I should add that Dave is right, I generally like shaken over stirred, especially for drinks dominated by a single ingredient – like a Martini or Manhattan. I like the little ice chips floating on top.
February 6, 2013 at 11:26 pm
It’s cool when you learn something new from reading your own blog (assuming it is not due to Alzheimer’s). Your first point I grasped only last night with the Cognitive Deficit, realizing that I usually shake when there is juice in the drink. I did not know that about bitter vs. sweet.
February 27, 2013 at 5:29 pm
I went to a mixology class last night and discussed shaken vs stirred with the bartender there. He summed it up simply as: “the difference is just appearance and texture.” He added that with juices, dairy or eggs you “have” to shake, as mentioned in the previous comment. Shaking gives a more cloudy appearance to the drink because of the introduction of air and also adds small ice chips to the final product. This does change the taste of the drink somewhat, although this can be more of a psychological thing rather than a major change in taste.