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Cocktail Making 101: The Shake

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Barmans hands holding a shaker against the bar counter

How to properly shake a cocktail

A great cocktail starts with a few key elements: a good recipe, quality ingredients, and proper technique. The recipe acts as your guide, the ingredients are the building blocks, but the technique is what turns those ingredients into a beautifully crafted (read: delicious!) cocktail. And the good news is that it’s not hard to master these techniques! Just a few simple tips and pointers will have you shaking cocktails like a pro in no time. We’ve geeked out on the subject so you don’t have to. Read on to learn our top tips for cocktail shaking success!


COCKTAIL SHAKING TIP #1: EQUIPMENT

taylor-friehl-p7kUyCns1SA-unsplash.jpgWhether you’re shaking or stirring, you’ll need to begin with the right equipment for any cocktail. This is a subject all its own, so we’ve put together a guide to Basic Home Bar Tools - check it out for a detailed dive into different types of cocktail shakers, strainers and more.

In order to make a shaken cocktail, you’ll want to have on hand:

  • Shaker

  • Strainer

  • Jigger

  • Ice (preferably large cubes)

COCKTAIL SHAKING TIP #2: WHEN TO SHAKE

There are different techniques used to make different cocktails, and for good reason. Shaking a cocktail that should be stirred can “bruise” the spirits or dilute the recipe too much. Similarly, stirring a cocktail that’s best shaken might result in a flat texture and a less homogeneous mixture. So, when do we shake, and why? Read on, friends.

The purpose of shaking a cocktail is three-fold. First, we shake to efficiently blend our ingredients. This is especially true when we use non-alcoholic add-ins like syrups, fruit juices, or egg whites. The differences in viscosity between the alcohol and other components means that they require more force to combine into a new, blended concoction all their own. In short, it’s kind of like shoving kids together at a middle school dance - a little force, and eventually they’ll be inseparable.

The second reason to shake is to aerate the cocktail. This creates a smooth, silky texture that we love - think of a great whiskey sour. When eggs or dairy are in the mix, aeration also produces that yummy, pretty foam on top. And finally, we shake to dilute our cocktail. I know, I know, no one wants a watered-down beverage - especially when you’ve shelled out for those top notch ingredients! But just about every good cocktail is slightly diluted in one way or another. If not, we’d all be knocked off our barstools after just a single libation - and what fun would that be? The key is to do it properly, and at the right times, to avoid over-dilution and preserve flavor.

So now we know WHY we shake, but how do we determine WHEN to shake (as opposed to when to stir)? A simple guide is this: If it’s all spirits, stir. If it includes juices, cream, eggs, or other dairy (not including cream-based liquors, which should be stirred), shake. Simple!

 

COCKTAIL SHAKING TIP #3: THE TECHNIQUE

So now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Gather all your ingredients and your equipment, glassware, garnishes, etc. Having everything on hand ensures that you don’t waste time and allow ice to melt when it shouldn’t. Let’s get shaking!

 

 
20140910-cocktail-techniques-michael-deitsch-shaker-vicky-wasik-39.jpg

Fill your serving glasses completely with ice to chill them. Let them sit while you prepare the cocktail.

Use your jigger to measure your ingredients into your shaking tin.

Fill the tin almost to the top with ice. The bigger the cubes, the better to avoid too much dilution.

Close the shaker (if you’re using a Boston shaker, the top should go on at a slight angle, as shown at left).

Give the top of the shaker a good firm tap with the heel of your hand to seal. You should be able to pick up the whole unit by the top half without the bottom falling off.

    20140910-cocktail-techniques-michael-deitsch-shaker-vicky-wasik-40.jpg

    Hold the shaker in your dominant hand, over your shoulder and away from your guests (let’s not spray our guests in the face in case of leaks, please!). Now use your non-dominant hand to stabilize. You should have one hand on each end of the shaker.

    Now go ahead….shake! You should be shaking mostly from front to back beside your head, over your shoulder. There are different shaking styles that lots of bartenders like to play with and show off, but let’s be honest - a good, simple shake is really all we need. Shake for about 15 seconds or until the shaker gets nice and frosty. Shake hard to get the job done quickly.

    Images via  Serious Eats

    When you’re done shaking, break the seal by hitting the shaker just where the top and the bottom start to come apart at the sides. Give it a nice hard thump with the heel of your hand, and you should be able to feel the seal break.

    Toss the ice out of your serving glasses (refill with fresh ice if the cocktail calls for it), and strain the cocktail from your shaker into your glasses. Garnish, serve, and marvel at your prowess.


          Images via Serious Eats

          We hope this guide takes some of the mystery out of the shaken cocktail for you! To get lots of practice with shaken AND stirred libations, check out our recipes - and to get a monthly fix of cocktail-making goodness delivered straight to your door, become an exclusive member of our Cocktail Club!

          Cheers, y’all.

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