Mixology 101: The Art of Shaking and Stirring Cocktails

Two words have stirred (and shaken) the mixology world and sparked numerous debates: "Shaken" and "Stirred".


From James Bond's Iconic "shaken, not stirred" Martini to the allure of a perfectly stirred Old Fashioned, these methods are an art form, a science. The skills behind these methods and their execution are a testament to a bartender's skill. 


But what is the real difference between the two, and how would you tell if a cocktail has been elegantly stirred or vigorously shaken?


Whether you're a cocktail enthusiast, a budding bartender or someone who appreciates a beautifully crafted drink, that's precisely what we will answer in this post. 


So grab your stirring rod or shaker, and let's dive in. 


The Origins of Shaking and Stirring Cocktails


While it's difficult to pinpoint a time in history when mixing drinks was conceptualised, there have been indications that older civilisations had budding mixologists mixing up new ideas. Traces of alcohol found in fragments of gourd in South America, dating as far back as 7000 B.C., are just one instance of the art of mixing. 


Yet, the unique shaking and stirring techniques we see today have more recent origins. 


Shaking: The cocktail shaker itself has a rich history, with the act of mixing being told in tales of drinks being mixed by pouring them back and forth between two containers. Nowadays, the three-piece shaker with a built-in strainer is the most popular way to achieve mixology perfection. A method further popularised by the numerous speakeasies and underground bars eagerly serving clientele during the Prohibition era in the U.S.


Stirring: There is a stark contrast between the two methods, with stirring reserved for more revered drinks, ensuring minimal cloudiness and a pristine presentation. The stirring method is often thought to be the older of the two techniques. We can see the elegance of the process dating back throughout history's best cocktails, including the Old Fashioned, with its clear, amber hue, undisturbed by air bubbles - a great showcase of both the cocktail's purity and the bartender's skill at presenting a drink. 


The Science Behind Shaking and Stirring


While we may associate specific cocktails with a singular method, we can't forget that a whole science is at play with whether you shake or stir your drink; it's not just about tradition or presentation.


Shaking: A whirlwind of Flavours 


  1. Temperature and Dilution: Shaking a cocktail with ice is the primary way to cool your drink rapidly. In doing so, you also harshly drop the temperature and cause the ice to melt faster, leading to more dilution. For many cocktails, this process is crucial in balancing complex flavours.
  2. Aeration: The aeration introduced by shaking can help alter the texture, making the drink feel frothier and more effervescent. This process helps create a delicate frothy top layer for cocktails that include citrus or egg whites, like the Pornstar Martini, which can enhance the flavours and make it look amazing. 
  3. Emulsification: On the topic of egg whites, shaking acts as an emulsifier, ensuring that ingredients like this - or creams - are integrated into the drink for a consistent texture.



Stirring: Gentle Blending


  1. Controlled Cooling: Stirring a cocktail provides more control over the cooling of the drink; doing so without shaking helps retain the drink's original strength and character. Stirring, therefore, is ideal for spirit-focused cocktails. 
  2. Clarity: It's no surprise that if you want to make a drink look pristine, you may stir it instead. Doing so prevents the aeration caused by shaking, meaning your drink will be free from air bubbles. This method will lead to more clarity in the final serving.
  3. Texture: Stirred drinks offer a silk, velvety mouthfeel as the stir mixes the vital ingredients of the glass without introducing air.


The beauty of both methods is that it isn't an arbitrary decision; it is calculated based on the desired outcome of flavour, appearance and texture. Understanding these sciences helps bartenders and enthusiasts craft a drink that truly resonates with the drinker. 


Beyond Shaken vs. Stirred


Understanding the science behind why a drink is shaken or stirred goes far beyond simple bar trivia. This deeper understanding and appreciation of the craft can significantly enhance your own mixology skills and pave the way for you to create new and exciting drinks yourself. 


Here are ways to use your newfound knowledge - whether you're looking to create your own cocktail marvels or enjoy your drinks more when you visit a bar.


  1. Personalisation: Sometimes, a drink doesn't hit right. It can be hard to pinpoint what element was off without knowing why. Knowing how these drinks are prepared - and the impact the method of making them has - allows you to tweak your cocktails depending on your preference. For example, if you want a colder, slightly more diluted drink, you know to shake the drink a bit longer. Or, if you want your stirred drink to be stronger, you can stir less. 
  2. Presentation: If you're hosting an event for guests or simply having an exciting get-together, knowing the best way to present your drinks can be a spotlight reveal. Understanding when and why to stir or shake can help you achieve that perfect visual presentation that'll wow those around you.
  3. Experimentation: With foundational knowledge of each method, you can start experimenting with different durations to find a mix of flavours you prefer. Alternatively, you can try shaking more commonly stirred drinks for surprising results that may quickly become a favourite. 
  4. Informed choices at a bar: It's always beneficial for safety to know what's going into your drink and why it's prepared the way it is. Bartenders may apply their twist on common drinks or have a different way of doing it. Knowing the method will help you understand why they're doing it that way and give you some talking points for conversation. Additionally, if the bar is open to it, you can ask your bartender to create your ordered drink in a certain way to further your enjoyment of the drink. 


Shaken vs. Stirred: Mixing Up the Final Verdict


A dance between tradition, science and personal taste - at its core, that's what the shaken vs. stirred debate is all about. Yet, while James Bond might have had his Martini shaken, that's not to say it's the golden standard for everyone. 


Each method has its unique charm and purpose and has room for experimentation. Part of being a mixologist is having a curious mind open to creating something special. In the vast world of cocktails, there's room for every preference; through experimentation, you may have a new one. 


Remember, the best mixologists are inspired by curiosity and passion, not just guided by the rules. 


Cheers! 🍸