Cocktails: When to shake and when to stir?

By Sina Torner / Last updated on May 30, 2024

Sometimes a cocktail recipe calls for a mixing glass in which to stir the drink. Other times you need a shaker to shake up a cocktail. But when do you opt for which technique - and why?
When to shake when to stir a cocktail

You don't need cocktails featured in famous movies to realize there is more than one way of preparing mixed drinks. Sometimes you shake them, sometimes you stir. -And sometimes both seem an option. However, as opposed to what the famous Martini quote of James Bond famously implies, a proper Martini is never shaken.

Of course, a good cocktail recipe tells you which preparation method is the right one for a drink. But wouldn't it be nice to understand when to use which technique and why? Well, at least every aspiring (home) - bartender should. So here's the explanation and the science behind it.

Shaking vs. Stirring

Shaking up a cocktail means you put ingredients into a cocktail shaker of some type and give it a good shake for at least 10 seconds to combine all ingredients properly.

To prepare a cocktail stirred, you usually use a mixing glass filled with ice and a bar spoon. On rare occasions, you make the drink directly in the glass. However, that's an exception and has nothing to do with the general difference between shaking and stirring.

When to apply which technique?

As a rule of thumb, one can say that a cocktail made of alcoholic ingredients only is traditionally prepared and stirred in a mixing glass. In turn, drinks that contain non-alcoholic components like juices or syrups are mixed with the help of any type of cocktail shaker.

There are exceptions, though. For instance, a Chocolate Martini is made with Vodka, chocolate liqueur, and Irish Cream - all contain alcohol, yet it is preferable to prepare the drink in a shaker.

In turn, there are drinks containing non-alcoholic ingredients, mostly highballs, that you neither shake nor stir but build in the glass and give only a gentle stir, if at all.

Generally, one should never shake or vigorously stir carbonated ingredients. If, for instance, you make a Moscow Mule or Cocktails with Champagne, you only top up the otherwise finished drink in the end with the carbonated component. 

Why is that & why does it matter?

Let's first look at the obvious: you neither shake nor stir carbonated ingredients because if you would, they'd fall flat very quickly. You want a proper fizz, so you want to avoid anything that would cause a loss of bubbles. 

For other cocktails, it may not be as obvious, so here's the why:

Stirring drinks is a more gentle way of combining ingredients than shaking. It causes less dilution from the ice and creates a more velvety texture compared to the frothiness we know from shaken drinks.

You can only do that with ingredients that have a similar viscosity because they blend well. Therefore, you usually only stir cocktails with purely alcoholic ingredients (including bitters) as non-alcoholic components are less viscous and would split before you could even serve the drink.

On the other hand, shaken cocktails are more frothy and airy due to the more vigorous preparation method. The extra energy you put into making that drink also helps combine ingredients that don't blend easily and would otherwise start to split in the glass within no time. That is especially valid for drinks containing citrus juices and/or egg white/aquafaba.

Further, because the ice melts faster when shaken, there's more dilution in a shaken cocktail compared to a stirred version. Also, the temperature will be lower than what you could achieve through stirring.  

Famous Cocktail that you shake

The majority of mixed drinks contain non-alcoholic elements, thus, are prepared shaken. Here are some examples of popular drinks you always make with the help of a cocktail shaker for the best results:

Popular drinks you'd stir

Now to the stirred classics. Many of the early mixed drinks of history are prepared in a mixing glass. It all started with the Old Fashioned, but there are various other vintage classics, like

Mixed Drinks built in the glass

Build-in glass drinks are commonly made with at least one carbonated component. May that be alcoholic, like champagne, or a mixer like soda or tonic. A few favored examples are:

More practical knowledge about bartending

If you want to learn more about the craft of making delicious bar-quality cocktails and highballs, I recommend reading the following:

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