How to stir a cocktail

How To Stir a Cocktail The Right Way

By Timo Torner / Last updated on January 19, 2023

Stirring cocktails is an important bartending technique and requires some practice to master it. We show you how to do it, how long you should stir a cocktail, and what that means for your drink.

Looking at bartenders stirring drinks in a mixing glass, you might assume that this is quite an easy task to do. Once you try it for yourself, you'll realize that stirring a drink requires a proper technique to make it look effortless.

Home bartenders tend to use their whole hand or wrist to stir cocktails when actually all you need is choreographed movements by four fingers of one hand.

So let's find out how you can best stir a cocktail.

Bar Spoon Types | Why Stirring | How to Stir | Stirring Time | Tips | Dilution | The Ice

Different Bar Spoon Types

First things first, let's talk about the most important tool you need to stir drinks besides your mixing glass. Bar Spoons came in different styles, lengths, and designs. In general, there are three different types of bar spoons:

  • American bar spoon - The traditional American bar spoon looks a bit rustic and is known for its bright red cap at the end of the spoon. It typically holds 5ml (1/6 oz) of liquid.
  • European bar spoon - The European bar spoon has a metal disk at the end of the handle, which helps to layer ingredients. It holds only half the amount of the American version, 2.5ml (1/12 oz).
  • Japanese bar spoon - This design features a drop-shaped handle end and is the most common version in bars today. Like the European version, it holds 2.5ml (1/12 oz).

Why Stir a drink?

Stirring a cocktail helps combine the different ingredients and chill the resulting drink - as opposed to shaking them. In most cases, drinks made with alcoholic ingredients only are stirred. For a more detailed look and explanation, check out our guide to determine whether a cocktail should be shaken or stirred

How to Stir a cocktail

Stirring a cocktail requires a gentle and smooth movement. Be patient, go with the flow, and stick to your technique. For faster chilling, place the mixing glass into your freezer for 30 minutes before your start to stir a drink. 

Time needed: 1 minute.

A Step-by-Step Guide on how to stir cocktails.

  1. Measuring ingredients

    Add all ingredients like spirits, liqueurs, and bitters into the chilled mixing glass.

  2. Ice

    Add ice cubes until the mixing glass is 2/3 filled with ice.

  3. The correct way to hold the bar spoon

    Hold the bar spoon between the thumb and index finger. Then, hold it loosely between your middle and ring finger. Typically, this is somewhere between the first and second knuckles of the fingers.

  4. Align the bar spoon

    Place the bar spoon in the mixing glass, the lower part facing the walls of the glass. You can, yet you don't need to go all the way down to the bottom of the glass. One or two inches are enough.

  5. Push & pull technique

    Now only use your fingers to move the spoon around the glass, not your whole hand. It should be a rhythmic movement of pushing (ring and pinky finger) and pulling (index and middle finger).

  6. Keep on stirring

    Stir the drink like that for 30-45 seconds.

  7. Strain & serve

    Remove the bar spoon and strain the drink into a glass using a Julep or Hawthorne strainer.

Tip: If you don't own a mixing glass, you can use a shaker tin instead. It's a little harder to move ice and ingredients with this, but it will do the trick.

How long should you stir a drink?

The exact time of how long to stir a drink will ultimately depend on the drink's recipe. Lighter drinks need less time, stronger cocktails often benefit from an extended stirring time.

In most cases, to properly chill, dilute, and mix a cocktail, you should stir it for between 30 and 45 seconds. Depending on the recipe (e.g., Martini), ice quality, and tools, the duration can also be closer to 60 seconds.

As a general rule of thumb, the better the ice quality, the longer you can stir. The reason for this is that quality ice will melt slower, thus, causing less dilution. 

The relative equilibrium (maximum point of chilling a stirred drink) is reached at around 2 minutes. However, mixing a drink that long will end in a very watery and diluted cocktail.

Pro tips and tricks for stirring cocktails

  • Chill the mixing glass: Putting the mixing glass in the freezer before stirring a cocktail can help to chill a cocktail faster. This way, the drink won't dilute as quickly while getting ice cold. -Put it in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes before preparing the drink.
  • Consistent movement: A consistent and smooth stirring technique helps to get the best results. Therefore it's strongly recommended to use your dominant hand and perfect your technique by practicing the push and pull movements.
  • Don't hold the glass: Ideally, you don't hold the glass at all. If you move the spoon around the glass smoothly and gently, there's no need to. Yet, if holding it makes you feel more secure, do so at the base to not warm the mixing glass.
  • Use fresh ice: When serving a stirred cocktail on the rocks, use fresh ice. That will melt slower as the cubes from the mixing glass.

Dilution

Dilution plays a crucial role when shaking and stirring cocktails. Too much and your drink tastes watery. Not enough dilution can make a cocktail taste harsh.

A 3 oz drink like a Negroni will ultimately contain around 4.2 oz in the glass. So, stirring brings another 40% more liquid and makes the final drink less alcoholic.

Shaking will dilute a drink more and much faster. A shaken Negroni (never do that, please) would contain 4.7 in the glass, so 1.7 oz instead of 1.2 oz of dilution.

Choosing the right ice

Choosing clear and quality ice is always vital when mixing drinks. No matter if it's the cubes, spheres, or Collins spears in the glass or the ice that goes into your shakers and mixing glasses.

  • Choose large pieces of ice: Larger ice cubes will melt slower than smaller ones. Never use pebbled or crushed ice when stirring a cocktail because it will dilute your drink too quickly.
  • Prefer clear ice: Clear ice has higher quality than cloudy ice cubes. Hence, it melts much slower, reducing the total dilution in your drinks.

If you read "wet ice" or "dry ice" in recipe notes, this typically refers to ice directly out of the freezer (dry) or having sat outside for a while (wet). 

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