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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cocktails 101: Shaking vs. Stirring… decisions, decisions

Cocktail imbibing guests in Salt Lake City sometimes ask the Utah Mixologist how to determine whether to shake or to stir a cocktail.  Shaking and stirring both have two functions: chilling the drink and contributing some water (in the form of melted ice) to it. The water “opens up” and changes the flavor of the liquor in whatever cocktail you’re making (that’s why you always want to use fresh, clean ice). The main difference between the two techniques is the cloudiness of the final product. A stirred Martini will be crystal clear, while a shaken one is cloudy when poured, but will gradually clear up (if it lasts that long). The cloudiness is caused by the tiny air bubbles introduced into the drink during shaking. Appearance is why today’s craft mixologists say you should stir clear cocktails (like the Martini) and shake the rest (those already cloudy from fruit juices (or egg whites) like the lime juice in Margaritas or the lemon juice in a Corpse Reviver No. 2).

The flavor change during shaking and stirring is a function of two things: how much the temperature of the drink is lowered and how much of the ice melts. These two are clearly closely related. You must stir longer to get the same effects that you can get from less time spent shaking, but you can still get the same end result (chilling & dilution) from stirring. The end-product advantage in shaking is the presence of tongue-teasing ice crystals, which definitely add to the impact of the drink.  The end-product advantage in stirring is clarity; the cocktail will look better immediately after pouring.

Stirring has one advantage for the beginning amateur mixologist: you don’t need to buy anything.  If you’re just getting started and don’t have any bar gear, you can stir your cocktails in a large (12 oz) tumbler with an iced-tea spoon.  When you’re ready to buy a shaker, there are two main types: the Boston and the Cobbler.  The Cobbler is a three piece shaker, usually made of stainless steel, and has a built-in strainer.  The Boston Shaker is two pieces: a mixing glass (that you can also use to prepare stirred cocktails) and a large, tapered cup (called the tin), much like the bottom of a Cobbler.  There will be more on shakers in a future post. 

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