Last edited on July 24, 2023

One of the most crucial aspects of mixology is in the name - mixing drinks! I know, that was a bit of a stretch, but bear with me. To make a truly great cocktail, you can't just think about the ingredients. You have to consider how best to combine the flavors for an optimal experience.

There are two primary ways to mix a drink: Shaking, and stirring. They each have their place in mixology, and it's important to have the proper technique for each of them, and know when to use each technique.

several colourful cocktails with lime, mint, and raspberry garnishes, on a bar top, in soft sunlight

How To Shake A Cocktail

Shaking is a vigorous action, which cools and combines your drink effectively. There are two main types of cocktail shaker used in bartending: The Boston shaker, and the Cobbler shaker.

Boston Shaker

The Boston shaker is the traditional shaker used by almost all professional bartenders. This consists of a large tin, and a slightly smaller tin. The smaller tin is designed to be able to "lock" inside the larger one, creating a vacuum seal while you're shaking. The smaller tin is usually made of tempered glass, which won't break into sharp shards while you're shaking, but they can also be metal.

How To Use A Boston Shaker

To use a Boston shaker, you want to start off by filling your mixing glass (the smaller tin/glass) at least halfway with ice, and pouring in your ingredients.

Then, empty it into the larger tin, placing the mixing glass upside down inside it. Make sure it's tilted a little bit, then give it a firm smack downwards, to create the vacuum seal.

Now for the fun part. Pick up your shaker with a hand on both ends, and shake back and forth vigorously for 10-15 seconds. The vacuum seal shouldn't break, but it's best practice to still hold both ends for peace of mind.

When you're done shaking, the outside of the tin should be frosting up, and should be very cold to touch.

To release the mixing glass from the tin, hit the side of the tin right next to the rim of the glass, and it should just pop off easily.

Finally, you'll usually strain your drink with a Hawthorne strainer. To do this, you want to sit the strainer so that the coil sits just inside the rim of the tin, then pour into your serving glass. Make sure you keep pressure on the strainer so it doesn't fall out while you pour.

Cobbler Shaker

The Cobbler shaker is mainly used in home bars, due to its ease of use. It consists of a single metal tin, with a lid which has a built-in strainer. This removes the need for creating a vacuum seal with the mixing glass, which can be difficult for new bartenders, and it eliminates the additional straining effort required when you use a Boston shaker.

The main drawback of this shaker is that when it gets cold after shaking, it can be very difficult to remove the lid, making it frustrating and impractical at times. Nonetheless, it still gets the job done, and is a good entry point into the world of bartending.

How To Use A Cobbler Shaker

Start off by filling up the tin at least halfway with ice. Then, pour in your ingredients. Once you've done that, put on the lid, and make sure it's on tight.

Shake vigorously back and forth for about 10-15 seconds, holding both the tin and the lid. When you're done shaking, the outside of the tin should be frosting up, and it should be very cold to touch.

Finally, remove the cap, and pour directly into your serving glass.

When To Shake A Cocktail

As a rule of thumb, it's safe to assume that if a drink has syrups, fruit, or juice, it needs to be shaken. This is because you need the vigorous mixing action to combine the ingredients which may be a bit hesitant to mix, such as simple syrup.

The main downside of shaking your cocktails is that it causes lots of dilution in your drinks, compared to stirring. However, for the drinks that have syrups, fruit, or juice, this is fine, because they have lots of flavor from the listed ingredients, and a bit of dilution won't affect the taste of the drink too much.

It's important not to shake your drink if it's spirit forward, or there are lots of nuanced flavors in the drink. A commonly stirred cocktail is the Old Fashioned, because you want the flavor of the whiskey to stand out.

How To Stir A Cocktail

Stirring is a smooth, relatively gentle action which combines the ingredients of your drink with a swirling motion, while chilling it. You can stir your drinks either in a designated mixing glass, or directly in the serving glass.

Mixing Glasses

Mixing glasses are large, beaker-like glasses. They're great for chilling drinks which you don't want to serve with ice. When you can't afford to dilute a drink too much (like if you're using expensive liquor for example), you can stir your drink in a mixing glass, then transfer it to your serving glass.

How To Stir A Cocktail

Traditionally, a bar spoon is used to stir a cocktail. If you don't have access to one, you can use any long kitchen utensil, like a knife for example.

First, you want to fill your mixing glass with ice. Cracked ice usually works best (depending on the drink), because it chills your drink much quicker than large ice cubes.

Next, pour your ingredients into the mixing glass, and begin to stir. To do this, you want to hold your bar spoon with a comfortable, light grip. Then, put your spoon into the bottom of the glass.

The motion of mixing should be smooth circles around the perimeter of the glass, with the back of the bar spoon facing the outside of the glass. You can achieve this by letting the bar spoon twirl between your fingers as you move it around. Stir for about 20-30 seconds, or until your drink is sufficiently chilled and diluted.

Finally, if you're stirring in a mixing glass, strain your cocktail into a serving glass with a julep strainer, keeping the ice and other debris in the mixing glass while you pour.

When To Stir A Cocktail

If your cocktail is very spirit-forward, you definitely want to stir instead of shake. This is because stirring maintains a smoother texture, and helps preserve the drink's clarity.

Shaking VS Stirring Your Cocktails

Shaking and stirring are both important skills to have as a bartender, but you need to know when to use each technique. There are many factors that go into whether you should shake or stir, and you'll need to come to your own conclusion, maybe with a bit of experimentation.

Spirit-forward cocktails require stirring, to ensure that the texture of the drink isn't compromised, and to control the level of dilution.

Conversely, cocktails with juices, syrups, and fruit most often need to be shaken, to ensure that all of the ingredients combine properly to ensure a consistent drinking experience.

Shaking is better for quickly cooling a drink, but it agitates the drink, introducing air bubbles and disturbing the texture. It also introduces lots of dilution into the drink.

Stirring is great for making a smooth drink, and having lots of control over the chilling and dilution of your drinks. It isn't as good at combining ingredients as shaking, because it doesn't use as much energy to combine those tricky ingredients like syrups.

If you want a clear, clean drink, stirring is your best bet, because it doesn't introduce air bubbles into the drink.

Overall, it's important to consider what qualities you want your drink to have, and to experiment with different techniques to perfect your cocktail. Now go out with your newfound knowledge, and make some drinks!