How to Shake a Cocktail the Right Way

By Timo Torner / Last updated on May 14, 2024

Shaking cocktails is the number one bartending technique to learn. The vast majority of cocktail recipes need to be shaken, and we explain why, how, and for how long.
How To shake a cocktail with a cocktail shaker

Knowing how to shake cocktails the right way is vital if you want to master the art of making mixed drinks. Besides the "How", understanding when to shake or stir is essential. A shaken Negroni or stirred Daiquiri will result in bad versions of these drinks.

So let me explain why we shake so many drinks, how you do it right, and for how long you should shake a cocktail.

Shaker Types | Why Shake | Styles of Shaking | Shake Time | How to Shake | Tips | Which Ice?

Cocktail Shaker types

Cocktail shakers come in various styles and shapes. Generally, you can categorize them into the following four types:

  • Boston Shaker - A two-piece shaker consisting of a shaking tin and a glass. 
  • Tin-on-tin Shaker - This type is very similar to the Boston Shaker, with one little difference: both parts of the cocktail shaker are stainless steel, hence the name.
  • Cobbler Shaker - A three-piece cocktail shaker that comes with a built-in strainer.
  • Parisian or French Shaker - Shapewise, resembling a Cobbler Shaker, this shaker is somewhat of a hybrid between a Cobbler and a Boston Shaker.

Each style has its pros and cons. Thus, the right choice is up to personal preferences. Read our review of the different cocktail shaker types for a more detailed overview. Or, if you plan to purchase new bar tools, look at our shaker set recommendations.

Why shake cocktails?

Shaking a cocktail means mixing the different ingredients of a cocktail recipe. But stirring would do that, too, right? So why is shaking cocktails a thing? Here are the main reasons:

  • Aerating the cocktail and its ingredients which changes the texture
  • Chilling all ingredients quickly -> The ice melts faster when shaking.
  • Blending all components with different viscosities.
  • The water from the ice ultimately dilutes a drink and reduces the total ABV. 

Stirring cocktails will dilute drinks slower, won't aerate the cocktail, and cools them down much slower. Learn more about when to shake and when to stir a drink.

Shaking Styles

Shaking cocktails is the fastest and most efficient way to chill and combine ingredients. There are basically four different shaking styles:

  • Standard Shake - this is the default way of shaking a cocktail. Add ingredients and ice cubes into a cocktail shaker and shake for 10 -12 seconds.
  • Dry Shake - This technique gets you the best foam for cocktails containing egg white. It's a two-step process where you shake the ingredients without ice first, then again with ice.
  • Reverse Dry Shake - Similar to the dry shake, this is a two-step process, but in reverse order. So, shake with ice first, discard the ice and shake again.
  • Hard Shake - This method was invented by bartending legend Kazuo Uyeda. Paradoxically, the hard shake is rather gentle. It is a more elegant way to move the ice through the shaker, which Uyeda had perfected for 15 years. The movement consists of three points instead of only two (back and forth). It's hard to master this technique, and even bartenders learning from the master himself are reluctant to say they perform it correctly.

How long should you shake a cocktail?

Shaking a cocktail chills a drink much faster than stirring. The ideal time to shake a cocktail is 10 to 12 seconds. It's even scientifically proven that after 15 seconds, the drink reaches its relative equilibrium. That means after 15 sec, it will neither get colder nor airier.

Stirring takes much longer for the same effects. Properly chilling a cocktail by stirring it on ice takes about two minutes. As you usually stir a lot less, the resulting drinks are less diluted and chilled.

How to shake cocktails

The actual process of pouring and shaking a cocktail is straightforward. Follow these steps, and your drink (prepared with a standard shake) should be ready within a minute.

Time needed: 1 minute

Here's our 7-step guide in how to shake a cocktail in just under a minute.

  1. Measure

    Measure the ingredients with a Jigger and pour them into the shaker tin.

  2. Add ice

    Fill the tin to 1/2 to 3/4 with ice cubes.

  3. Close your cocktail shaker

    Secure the lid or shaker tin. If it's a Boston or tin-on-tin shaker, make sure both parts align.sealed Boston shaker

  4. Seal the shaker

    Seal the shaker by giving it a firm tap on the top with the heel of your hand.

  5. Hold it tightly

    Hold the shaker with both hands, securing its top and bottom parts. 

  6. Shake

    Shake the cocktail for 10 to 12 seconds, but no longer than 15 (in a standard shake).

  7. Strain

    Open the cocktail shaker and strain the drink into a chilled glass or over fresh ice if you serve the drink on the rocks.

Tip: if you don't own a cocktail shaker, there are some tools you can use alternatively. We even wrote a guide to the best shaker alternatives you might have at home.

Pro tips for shaking drinks

Learning how to shake a cocktail takes a bit of time and practice. Here are some tips to make the learning process faster:

  • Don't use too much ice - If the shaker is too full, the drink won't get aerated properly. The liquids and the ice need space for movement to mix and froth properly.
  • Don't be too gentle - Shake it like you mean it and move the shaker with some force but not too much. 
  • Grip it tightly - Sealing a shaker firmly needs a little practice. That's why -especially at the beginning of your shaking career- it's super important to have a firm grip on both parts of the shaker. If you use a Cobbler Shaker, put one finger on the top to prevent the lid from popping off.
  • Shake up and down - Shake the drinks horizontally to perform better aeration. Shaking vertically is less effective and, frankly, looks a little odd.
  • Align the shaking tin/glass - Make sure both parts of your shaker align on one side. If not, your shaker might get stuck, and you'll have difficulties opening it again. 

Choosing the right ice

Quality ice is a crucial part of bartending. The smaller the cubes or poorer the quality, the faster your ice will melt. Therefore follow these simple guidelines when choosing your ice.

  • Prefer large cubes - Large ice cubes melt slower and won't overdilute your drink. The smaller the cubes, the more dilution while shaking.
  • Prefer clear quality ice - The clearer the cubes, the better the quality. Clear ice cubes melt slower and prevent unwanted rapid dilution.
  • Don't use crushed ice - Only do so when the recipe asks for it specifically. Like when making a Mai Tai. Crushed ice will melt much fast and will quickly dilute your cocktail. The same applies to pebbled ice.

Further, you can categorize ice into wet and dry. If you read this in a recipe, don't be confused. In this case, dry ice (cubes) means that it comes directly from the freezer. Wet ice is ice that already began to melt, having that wet and shiny look.

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