making a cocktail

The Most Important Bartender Techniques Every Bartender Should Master

All bond lovers are familiar with his iconic phrase: “A martini, shaken, not stirred.”
when he sits at a bar and instructs the bartender to make him a martini.
but as much as I love Bond, he got it all wrong.
in this guide, I will lay down 2 of the most important bartender techniques – shaking and stirring.

bond ordering a martini, shaken, not stirred on a plane

There are many important bartending skills and techniques out there.
but the majority of cocktail recipes will call for one of these 2 methods.

Bond is not alone with his mistake.
every day bartenders around the globe face the same question to shake or to stir?
The good news is, there are some basic ground rules every bartender should follow to decide whether to stir or shake.

So when exactly should you shake or stir a cocktail? And how do you do it the right way?

Why is it so damn important?

In both of these techniques, we are essentially want to chill the drink, dilute it and incorporate all the ingredients together.
how chill you might ask?
the answer is for shaken cocktails, if done right, you’ll end up with a drink that is around -5 to -7C / 23 to 19F and dilution of about 25% to 40%.
for stirred cocktails, you will end up with 0 to -5C / 32 to 23F and dilution of 20% to 25%.

So with the data above, we can already see that stirred cocktails are less cold and less diluted than shaken ones.
the reason for that is when your drink is composed of spirits alone, with no juices, egg whites, creams or puree. your best bet will be to stir it.

in the mixology jargon, we refer to those types of cocktails as spirit-forward.
here your main goal is to get a crystal clear, ice-cold and with just the right amount of dilution to mellow it down.

For shaken cocktails, drinks that contain juices, creams, and egg whites.
our main goal is to incorporate all the ingredients together.
and in the process insert tiny air bubbles, chill the hell out of it and get more dilution.

another reason that those ingredients call for shaking is, shaking gets the drink colder, and the colder the drink is, the less sweet it tastes.

bar tools. boston shaker, strainers, mixing glass and bar spoon
Bar tools from left to right: Boston shaker, julep strainer, Hawthorne strainer, mixing glass and bar spoon

How to properly shake a cocktail

When shaking a cocktail our main goals are:

  • Super cold
  • very well diluted
  • all ingredients are truly incorporated
  • has tiny air bubbles and light on the palate texture

What actually happens to a drink when you shake it

When ice and liquids are thrown from one side to another the liquids get colder very fast.
in the process, you’ll introduce the liquids to tiny air bubbles that will incorporate into the drink.
The result of this process will be a well diluted, super cold and light on the palate drink.
the final product will have a fluffy texture and a bit of foam (depending on the ingredients you used).

The different kinds of shakers

The most common type of shaker is the Boston shaker.
he consists of two parts made of steel tins, or one-part steel one-part glass.
those two parts fit together and form a tight seal, this is important because you don’t want to avoid any spillage either on you or god forbid – on your costumer.

The other type is known as the Cobbler shaker.
it consists of 3 parts, a cap, a strainer and the container itself.
This type of shaker is not so recommended, they tend to freeze shut.
you’ll find yourself beating the hell out of them in the middle of service trying to open them up.
do yourself a favor, get a decent Boston shaker and leave the Cobbler to be a decorative piece in your home bar.

The shaking process

The style of shaking is something you will develop over time and practice.
what’s important is that you do it right.

Start by building all ingredients into the small tin (without ice), then add the ice.
you can either fill the large tin with about 3/4 or fill the small tin until its full. This step is important, make sure you add enough ice, too little and you will over-dilute the cocktail.

Then close the shaker and give it a small blow with the heel of your palm to properly seal it.
It’s best practice that the small tin of the shaker will face you.
in a case of the shaker will open, the drink will spill on you and not all over your customer.

Now hold the shaker with both hands, and with a throwing motion launch it forward and backward from you.
what you want to feel is that all the content inside is getting from one side of the shaker to the other.
repeat that motion for about 12 to 20 seconds, more then that will result in nothing.
the reason for that is, the drink and the ice are at the same temperature inside and will no longer dilute or chill the drink.

When finished you need to open the shaker, in outer words, separate the tins.
trying to pull them apart won’t work, due to the contraction of the metal.
What you need to do is hit one of the sides where the two tins meet. Give it a fast hit with the heel of your hand.
if done right, you’ll hear a nice POP sound, and the tins are now separated.

The dry shake

There is another bartending technique involved in shaking, it’s called dry shake.
you will use this technique when your cocktail contains egg whites or another foaming agent (today we have lots of substitutes).
those ingredients produce a foam on top of the drink.

To dry shake all you’ll need to do is simply add all the non-alcoholic ingredients into a cocktail shaker without ice.
then shake vigorously for about 25 seconds.
after that, you can add your booze and ice and give it another shake (wet shake) to chill everything.

What will happen inside the shaker is that all sugar-based ingredients such as juices and syrups will combine together with the egg white proteins.
when protein molecules are incorporated with air the result will be a thick foam.

here is an example of a cocktail that was dry shaken.

a cocktail with foam from dry shaking

Straining and Serving

All that’s left is to strain your cocktail into a serving glass.
we usually use a Hawthorne strainer, a strainer that as a spring to strain fruit pulp.
sometimes we double strain using a fine-mesh strainer, depending on if we wish to have small ice shards or fruit pulp in our drink.
if the recipe calls for ice, use new ice in your serving glass.
if not, just make sure to double strain to get a nicer texture without any ice shards floating around the drink.

double-strain: using a Hawthorne strainer paired with a fine-mesh strainer.

How to properly stir a cocktail

Main goals when stirring a cocktail:

  • ice-cold drink.
  • crystal clear, without any ice shards.
  • properly diluted in order to mellow down the spirits.
  • all ingredients perfectly combined.

First of all, when stirring a cocktail you will need a mixing glass.
usually, a mixing glass is just an adorned glass big enough to contain a large amount of liquid and ice.
but the truth is, you don’t have to have a fancy mixing glass to make a good martini or a Negroni.
any Boston shaker tin or even a pint glass will do the trick.
Second, you’ll need a bar spoon, it’s just a long stainless-steel spoon with a twisted stem.
those spoons typically have some sort of tools in one end, such as a fork or a disk, and the spoon itself in the other end.

The stirring process

Get your favorite stirred cocktail recipe in front of you.
Start by building it into a clean, empty mixing glass.
then add enough ice to fill the glass about 3/4 full.

Now simply insert the spoon while grabbing it from the middle.
the spoon should go all the way down while the spoon bowl faces the ice.

gently push the spoon, using only your fingers, away from your body and then toward it.
the spoon should create a circular motion, mixing the drink smoothly and silently.
make sure your motion is gentle enough not to get any spillage out of the glass. remember this is a subtle technique.

you should repeat this process for at least 30 seconds.
you know you’re done when you will start noticing condensation around the glass, that’s your cue.

Straining and Serving

All that’s left now is to serve your cocktail.
one important piece of advice is always to use new ice in your serving glass. never pure your cocktail with the same ice used to stir it! (that’s a tale sign to know when your bartender isn’t a professional).

you need to strain your cocktail into the serving glass, preferably with a Julep strainer.
garnish it and serve, Cheers!

the stirring process itself
notice how the spoon is placed inside the glass
straining a crystal clear cocktail using a julep strainer
straining using a julep strainer

If you want to test your stirring skills try this dry martini.

Key takeaways – conclusion

For shaking

  • you will choose to shake when your cocktail contains: juices, cream, and egg whites.
  • proper shaking takes about 12 to 20 seconds.
    the result should be a well combined, super cold, well diluted and light on the palate cocktail.
  • The temperature of a shaken cocktail is about -5 to -7C / 23 to 19F with 25% to 40% dilution.
  • Fill your shaker with enough ice, to get the right temperature and dilution.

For stirring

  • You will choose to stir when your cocktail contains mainly spirits.
    sometimes combined with bitters or light syrups, in other words, when the spirit is the king.
  • proper stirring takes about 30 seconds, the result is a crystal clear, ice-cold with just the right amount of dilution to get the edge of the spirits off.
  • The right temperature of a stirred cocktail is about 0 to -5C / 32 to 23F and dilution of 20% to 25%.
  • you don’t have to own a fancy stirring glass you can use a pint glass or one of the tins from your shaker.

This is a part 1 from a 3 part guide, about the most important bartending techniques every bartender should master.

If you liked these comprehensive guide please share it.
fill free to comment on any thoughts or questions you might have or, you can simply contact me.