Shaken or Stirred?

Written By Alexandra Vaughn 

Ahhh, the long debated question: to shake or to stir? In this article, we'll explore when to shake, when to stir and different methods you can use to perfect your cocktail creations. There are a few easy rules you can follow  for deciding when to shake and when to stir. Let's get started! 

Dilute & Chill

First off, let's look at why we shake or stir at all. It's to chill and dilute the cocktail. And did you know that you can get the same ratio of dilution and chill from shaking 15 to 20 seconds as you would get from stirring for a minute and a half to two full minutes? Luckily, we don't usually stir a drink for more than 30-40 seconds. Therefore, stirred drinks tending to be less diluted than their shaken friends. Think manhattan vs margarita.


Another factor is the ingredients in your cocktail and for some,  it’s just personal preference. For instance, a shaken martini will loose its texture (you know, the almost oily quality you get from stirring?) yet many people prefer their martinis shaken.  

The definition of a cocktail* is: spirit + sugar + water + bitters.  The water comes from the dilution of a cocktail when it is chilled with ice.  Therefore, how long you stir or shake your cocktail is extremely important.  

Something also to note is the type of ice you are using.  Smaller cubes will melt faster while large more dense cubes will melt slower.  Depending on your ice maker you might want to adjust the amount of time you shake or stir your cocktail. Always use fresh, filtered water to make your ice.

*The first known written definition of a cocktail as seen in the May 13, 1806 edition of The Balance and Columbian Repository by editor Harry Croswell in Hudson New York.

Easy Rules to Follow for Deciding When to Shake & When to Stir

The most important rule for making cocktails and the techniques you use is: how you like your drink is how you should drink it! But, if you're looking for some advice when it comes to tried and true methods, we've summed it up for you!

Rules for Stirring:

Stir cocktails that contain only alcohol (i.e. martinis, manhattans, negronis).  Generally these high ABV cocktails should be stirred for 30 seconds to dilute the beverage to its desired taste.  Over stirring will leave your cocktail too watery while an under stirred drink will be overbearing. 

There is a theory that some liquor such as whiskey or gin may “bruise” when shaken, but that is up for debate.  A better adage might be that stirring a booze forward cocktail  offers the more desired silky or viscous mouth-feel.

An exception to this rule is anything made with a cream based liquor.  If you’re making a cocktail with just vodka and Bailey’s for instance, it’s best shaken to prevent separation.  

Carbonated drinks should never be shaken.


Rules for Shaking

Shake cocktails containing citrus, dairy, juice or egg. (i.e. margaritas, whiskey sours, mudslides) Shaking aerates the cocktail and different ingredients will provide a variety of different effects.  Shaking pineapple juice will add a nice froth while egg whites will add a serious long lasting foam. There are many different kinds of shaking techniques, but here are a few to get you started.  

Different Styles of Shaking

The wet shake:  

We shake drinks to mix, chill and dilute. We are agitating the ingredients with plenty of ice to create a certain texture.  Coktails served straight up will benefit from a harder and longer shake while a drink served on the rocks should be chilled but not over diluted. (the ice in the glass with the cocktail will continue to melt leaving your cocktail watered down) Tip: Never shake with crushed ice.  

The dry shake:  

This method is used often with egg white cocktails.  The idea is that shaking at a warmer temperature will help emulsify the ingredients thus adding a thicker foam.  

To dry shake, add all of your ingredients into your shaker excluding the ice.  Shake hard. Keep in mind that as the cocktail mixes, the egg whites will emulsify creating the foam.  As you’re shaking as hard as you can, aerating the eggs, they will expand and your shaker will want to come apart.   

Pro Tip:

Before you start, make sure you have a firm grip on your tin and a tight seal. You can check the seal by lifting just the top (small) shaker. If the bottom falls out your seal is not tight enough.  

After dry shaking, add ice, shake and double strain into your glass.  Another version of this is the reverse shake.  To do this, you would wet shake first, then discard the ice and finish with the dry shake.  Many have argued which produces the better foam so it’s a fun experiment you can do at home.  

The quick shake:

The quick shake refers to shaking for only a few seconds. The idea is to quickly chill and mix ingredients while not over diluting. This technique  is used when shaking a drink that will be poured out of the shaker and into a glass. Think drinks that are muddled where the pulp or herbs are intentionally left in the drink - like a mojito. The same ice that you shake with is the same ice in the cocktail and will continue to melt. Giving a quick shake will ensure the cocktail doesn't become too watery before you get to the last sip. 

Pro Tip:

Use metal shakers. Tin or metal shakers heat and cool quicker than glass so it is recommended to use a tin.

When mixing your cocktail, you should always build it in the larger shaker and seal it with the smaller tin on top. Keep it this way while shaking so that when you remove the lid, the cocktail remains in the large shaker. This helps prevent sloshing, splashing and spils so you look like a pro (and have less of a mess to clean up)!