s is for shaking, stirring and straining

By Matthew Latkiewicz

As seen on DrinkTV’s original series, Drinktionary. Watch all the A to Z’s of alcohol here.

S is for Shaking. And stirring. And straining I guess, since it’s right there. 

Cocktails are of course mixed drinks, and usually served cold, so when bartenders were first inventing cocktails, they also invented ways to mix them.

The first known drinks were mixed either by stirring, duh, or by pouring the liquid between two different glasses. While this alcoholic waterfall must have looked amazing, it couldn’t have been efficient.

Oddly, total side point, the only place I have seen this done is Philz coffee in San Francisco. And it did look damn impressive every time.

It didn’t take long before one enterprising barfella realized that shaking a drink between two glasses of varying size was definitely the way to go, thus inventing what is now known as the Boston Shaker. I guess you can never build a better mousetrap, because this style is still the dominant one used by American bartenders. It is the most flexible, and least fussy, and unlike the Cobbler, which is the one you probably have at home, allows you to strain how you want. You could go with the ugly looking but efficient Hawthorne, or you could dress it up bit with a julep strainer, or you could go hardcore and use the glasses themselves as the strainer #hardcorestrain.

With a cobbler, however, there’s a top with a strainer built in. If the exception proves the rule, than this is the mousetrap exception. While many a hopeful inventor have tried to improve upon literally just two glasses pressed together, only Edward Hauck’s 1884 design has hung on. These make sense for the home or your suitcase. I had two mixing glasses for a boston shaker on my bar for a couple years and I looked like a real dickhead. Just get a cobbler.

Or, the best of both worlds perhaps, the Parisian shaker, also just two cups pressed together, but at least it makes one shape. According to Jim Meehan, the Parisian and the Boston give you more “throw (distance from one end of the shaker to the other.)”

Ok, but wait, why the hell do you need to shake a drink in the first place. Why go through all that? If you are trying to chill it and mix it, why not just stir it, like sensible adult.

2 reasons. Ok 3 if you count the performative nature of it. The Japanese even have a particular shaking style called the Hard Shake. I know some people find it ridiculous, and elaborate shakes have pretty much been proven to have no effect on the resulting drink, but I don’t care. I love it. It’s part of the noise and activity of the place. It’s not as good as passing the drink between two cups like a wizard, of course but I’ll take it.

But also, shaking gets the drink colder and dilutes it more, which it turns out come together. If you are interested in the finer points of why this is so, I point you to David Arnold’s book Liquid Intelligence which is a heroic effort of drinking science. Suffice it to say here that you want to shake drinks if you want them colder and slightly more diluted, which can affect the flavor.

This isn’t to say stirring doesn’t also get the drink cold, it’s just slightly less. Try your favorite cocktail both shaken and stirred side by side, see which way you prefer it.

More importantly, however, is that shaking just mixes things more intensely, so when you are making a drink that calls for booze and citrus and simple syrup, all things of very different densities and other science parts, shaking mixes them better. Doesn’t matter so much as with all booze drinks. Those things mix pretty well just with stirring.

This superior mixing also aerates the drink, more so if you have something like egg white or cream in there. As far as I understand it, “aerates” is when air bits get inside liquid bits and give it a fluffy texture. So another quality of well shaken drinks – 10-15 seconds is all you need (unless it is the Ramos Gin fizz of course, which we discussed in letter N)—is a light and fluffy texture, sometimes which you want, and sometimes which you don’t. So get yourself a shaker, and a mixing glass and come join me in the kingdom of cocktail nerdery. 

S is for Shaking, Stirring and Straining. 


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