Cocktail School: Shaken or Stirred?


A lovely guy hired Night Owl Hospitality as a Valentine’s Day present for his wife. What he had in mind was that we would conduct an at-home cocktail-making class for the two of them and a small group of their friends around their kitchen island on a Saturday night. We love educating folks about craft cocktails, and we thus love doing events like this.

He and I conferred on how to structure the class, and we decided upon offering a welcome cocktail and then I would demo for the group a shaken cocktail, a stirred one, and a shaken one with egg whites. Once we decided this, there was a bit of back and forth via email about which cocktails to select for each category, but ultimately we figured out the various drinks pretty quickly—a French 75 for the welcome cocktail; a Lavender Bees Knees for the shaken cocktail; and a Hibiscus Whiskey Sour for the shaken one with eggs (see below for recipes)—except for the stirred offering.

In the back-and-forth of emails, it became evident that he and his wife weren’t clear on what what a stirred cocktails is. Once I explained it, they were then afraid that they were too boozy and that the women wouldn’t like them.

Even when he and his wife kept suggesting shaken cocktails for the evening, thinking that they were stirred ones, or maybe because of this, I wouldn’t back down from including a stirred cocktail in the line-up. After all, at least one-third of all the cocktail recipes out there in the world, are stirred ones, and so if I were to skip this part of their cocktail education, I would be denying them a whole, big category of drinks. I wouldn’t be preforming my cocktail duty!

Of all the stirred cocktail that I suggested for the evening (and there were a lot of them! Vesper; Martini; Negroni; (Spicy) tequila old fashioned; Boulevardier; Martinez, Sazerac, Diamondback, Alaska, Bijou, Tuxedo) we ultimately went with the Martinez. Well, actually, I had to insist on it, and what made me go with it is that even though it’s “booze-forward,” it has a pleasing, approachable sweetness and it was an opportunity to explain dry gin vs Old Tom gin.

After all their resistance toward a stirred drink, the Martinez ended up being one of the favorite drinks of the evening, even for the women—a potable, revelation. The merry group, who were very good students, eager to learn more about the history of alcohol and cocktails, loved the term “spirit forward,” an expression, which will help them to decode on a cocktail menu, which drinks are stirred and which are shaken.

So, when are drinks shaken and when are they stirred? I must confess that when I was first getting into cocktails, almost 15 years ago, I didn’t even know, and I felt so ashamed when a bartender at Dutch Kills in Queens, NYC, which was admired for hand-carving its own ice, had to school me on the differences in preparation.

Enough of me. Back to the question: When to shake and when to stir? Basically when a drink recipes calls for juice, dairy, or eggs, the drink is shaken to forcibly mix together the different ingredients and to incorporate air which leads to a frothy, light texture. If the ingredients are just booze (this includes from spirits to vermouth to bitters) and sugar, it’s stirred so that the drink isn’t aerated and the resulting mouthfeel is seductively velvety. If you were to shake a martini, for example, it would get cold more quickly than by stirring, but its appearance would be all off. The air introduced by shaking will turn the drink cloudy, not at all what you want for your martini, the delight of which is crystal clarity. Let James Bond have that.


Welcome Cocktail: French 75

1 oz Gin
.5 oz Lemon juice
.5-.75 oz Simple syrup (depending on sweetness of sparkling wine)
2-3 oz Sparkling wine, chilled

Combine all ingredients, except sparkling wine, in a shaker tin, add ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a champagne flute. Top with chilled sparkling wine.
Garnish with a lemon twist.

Shaken 1: Lavender Bee's Knees
2 oz. Gin
.75 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Lavender honey syrup*

Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin, add ice, and shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass or a chilled coupe.
Garnish with a lemon twist or lemon wheel/wedge.

*Lavender Honey Syrup
6 oz. Honey
3 oz. Hot water
5 tsp Dried lavender
Stir the dried lavender into the hot water and let steep for three minutes. Mix honey into the hot lavender water until the honey is fully dissolved.  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month. Makes 9 ounces.

Stirred 1: Martinez
2 oz. Old Tom gin
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
1 tsp Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Orange bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and add ice. Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe/Nick and Nora glass.Garnish with an orange twist.

Shaken 2: Hibiscus Sour
1.5 oz. Bourbon
.5 oz. Lime juice
.25 oz. Lemon juice
.75 oz. Hibiscus syrup**
.5 oz or 1 small Egg white (optional)Combine all ingredients in a shaker tin. If using egg white, first shake without ice for 10 seconds (a "dry shake") and then add ice and shake for 10 more seconds.  Strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with freshly grated cinnamon.

**Hibiscus Syrup:
8 oz. Organic cane sugar
8 oz. Hot water
3-4 tsp Dried hibiscus flowers/tea
Combine the hot water, dried hibiscus and cane sugar in a saucepan.  Stir over medium heat until sugar is fully dissolved, and tea is fully steeped (about 10 minutes).  Strain and let the syrup cool to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, refrigerated, for up to 1 month.  
Makes about 12 ounces.