The Basics Tips & Tricks

How to Master the Hard Shake

Not all shakes are the same. bartender Kim Van Liefferinge demonstrates the hard shake. bartender Kim Van Liefferinge demonstrates the hard shake. Image: / Tim Nusog

There are few sounds in the world as distinct as that of a cocktail being shaken. The rhythmic chick-a-chick-a-chick has been the unofficial music of bars around the globe going back to the mid-19th century. But not all shakes are the same.

Take, for instance, the hard shake. It’s a specific cocktail-shaking style, attributed to Japanese bartender Kazuo Uyeda, the proprietor of Tender Bar in Tokyo’s Ginza district. American bartender Eben Freeman popularized the technique in U.S. bartending circles starting around 2009, during his tenure at influential molecular mixology bar Tailor (now closed) in New York City. He likened the precision of the hard shake to the Japanese tea ceremony.

How It Works

The technique involves a choreographed set of motions, usually performed using a three-piece cobbler shaker. You start by holding the shaker at an angle and shaking hard, using the wrists to snap the tin away from the body, so the shaker is now upright, then bringing it back in toward the body. 

The hard shake usually follows a three-point pattern, starting with the first shake at face level, then collar bone level, then heart level. The back-and-forth movement should cause the ice to roll within the tin in a figure-eight motion.

What It Does for Drinks

In his book “Cocktail Techniques,” Uyeda says the ultimate goal of the hard shake is to create aeration, which “acts like a cushion that prevents the bite of the ingredients and the sharpness of the alcohol from directly attacking the tongue. The bubbles expand the alcohol, and the flavor becomes softer.”

A few ideal ingredients bring out the best of the hard shake, says Uyeda, particularly creams and egg whites, which can take on a whipped state that’s difficult to obtain with other shaking methods. However, drinks composed only of spirits won’t hold the bubbles created by the hard shake and are better off stirred.

Why Bartenders Love It

Several years after the hard shake rose to prominence in the U.S., bartenders still laud it as an effective way to add lightness and nuance to drinks. “Compared to, say, shaking in a Boston tin, it brings more delicate flavor to the drink,” says Los Angeles bartender Kevin Lee, formerly of The Wolves and Le Néant. “I took inspiration from the Japanese hard shake when developing my shake.”

That small improvement in texture can benefit almost every aspect of a cocktail. “It creates a frothier cocktail, which contributes to the overall structure of the drink,” says Tyler Zielinski, the creative director at Lawrence Park in Hudson, N.Y. “It makes the cocktail interesting in flavor, body, texture and even aroma.”

Of course, the crisp motion and rattle of the ice also makes for good theater behind the bar, another reason for its lasting popularity. But it’s a show with functionality. Using the hard shake signals “mindfulness toward the overall quality of the final product,” says Zielinski. 

Its Limitations

However, bartenders note the technique has limitations. “It’s not a technique for any and every circumstance,” says Cari Hah, the bar manager at Big Bar in Los Angeles. “If you have big, dense rocks of ice [such as Kold-Draft cubes], the hard shake definitely can work to give a cocktail a beautiful temperature, dilution and texture.” But with smaller or less dense ice, the forceful hard shake can result in overdiluted, ruined cocktails, she adds. 

While showmanship is part of the hard shake’s allure, some bartenders have felt the need to modify the movements. Zielinski, for example, uses a slight variation “that takes up less space behind the bar,” he says. Others cite the need to protect against injuries caused by repetitive motion and the weight of the ice. Plus, that snap of the wrists can exacerbate wrist or shoulder problems, some say. GupShup beverage director Mikey Belasco advises bartenders to dial back on super-vigorous shaking.

“The hard shake doesn’t really have to be hard to the body,” says Belasco. “The way I see it is more like a dance movement.” Done right, he adds, “It’s not just throwing ice back and forth in a shaker, it’s a rhythmic flow.”