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Shaken or Stirred?

Posted by Reese on 2009-05-13 @ 08:35pm

We all know the iconic phrase uttered by Bond each time he orders his, now traditional, Vodka Martini.  Some of us even have friends who have ordered the drink using the phrase (yes, there was laughing, at said friend).  You see Bond always wants his cocktail “shaken, not stirred”.  But why?  This request goes against all things right and proper in the cocktail chilling world.  One never shakes a cocktail made completely with clear spirits.  Again, I must ask why.

Shaken and Stirred

Shaken (left) and Stirred (right)

I’ve heard a few answers.  First, shaking introduces much more ice crystals to the drink which do two things.  One, they cloud the drink (which is readily apparent in the image above) and two, they dilute the drink (which is also noticeable).  Second, shaking chills the drink far more than stirring, more about that in a bit.  Third, and I’d say most interesting, shaking introduces more ice (and thus more water) and therefore fundamentally changes the cocktail.  Cocktail recipes are usually tuned for the technique when they’re developed.  A clear drink, such as the Martini is developed with the knowledge that it will be stirred and as such the ingredients are added in sufficient quantities to balance this.

I decided to put these to the test.  My method was as follows:

  • Equal Quantities (3 oz Gin, 3 Ice Cubes)
  • Same Hardware (Shaker Tin)
  • Same Time (30 seconds)

The results really amazed me.  First the temperatures.  30 seconds of shaking produced 26F gin where 30 seconds of stirring only produced 46F.  20 degrees is a huge difference, not just in the flavor of the cocktail but also in how long it will remain pleasantly cool while sipping.  Second was the clouding.  Not much I can say here.  It’s quite clear (pun fully intended) from the picture how much additional ice and air was introduced by the shaking process.  Finally, the additional volume really floored me.  The shaken cocktail appears to have gained as much as 1 oz of water and air.  I can’t say for certain how much of each is present, but I’d guess nearly 50% is air.

Baffled by the not-so-low temp of the stirred cocktail I executed one final test, stirring for 60 seconds.  This brought the gin down to 32F which is in the same range as the shaken cocktail, but it still remained crystal clear.  However, it did melt more ice and therefore increased in volume more than the 30 second stir.  I’d say about on par with the shake.

So, some interesting findings from this one.  It seems to me that one should certainly stick with the general rule of stirring drinks composed exclusively of clear spirits.  If for no other reason than the visual appeal of the final product.  While shaking for 30 seconds produced a much colder cocktail I think going forward I’ll be making sure to stir my drinks for at least 60 seconds to get them down to temperature and to melt some additional ice.  Water, although not explicitely stated, is a key ingredient in all cocktail recipes, you know.  One final note.  Shaking a metal shaker tin will bring your hand to a new level of cold.  In my case actually slightly freezing it to the tin.  I have a much deeper level of respect for those who shake tins all night long.  I know not how you deal, but I am awed.