At face value, shaking cocktails may seem like a fairly straightforward and simple process, but that’s hardly the case when you are striving for the perfect serve. The mixing technique used when making a drink significantly affects what you’ll get in the glass. Imagine stirring a Daiquiri instead of shaking it—the resulting cocktail would be wildly different from the usual version due to three factors: aeration, temperature and dilution.
Before diving into the various types of shaking, it’s important to have an understanding of the fundamentals of what a shake accomplishes.
Fundamentals of Shaking
If a cocktail includes egg white (or aquafaba, a vegan alternative), cream or fruit in the form of juice or purees, it nearly always should be shaken rather than stirred to achieve the desired aerated texture.
A shake is rendered useless if the ice you’re using isn’t high quality. “The purpose of the shake is to chill the drink and add dilution, ideally with as much control and consistency as possible,” says Brendan Bartley, the head bartender and beverage director at New York City’s Bathtub Gin. If the ice you’re using is cloudy, of inconsistent size or has any sort of residual smell, you’ll be less able to control dilution and create consistent cocktails. If your freezer doesn’t make decent ice, either buy a bag at a local grocery shop or make your own with simple ice molds.
Once you have good ice nailed down and have ensured the ingredients you’ve mixed are balanced, then you’re ready to focus on your shake. Shaking technique is incredibly nuanced, but its aims are simple and consistent. “In most cases, what we’d like to achieve through shaking is mixing, aeration and dilution,” says GN Chan, the owner of NYC bar Double Chicken Please. You do this by filling your shaker tin up with ice and giving it a proper vigorous shake. “Normally, the shake will have a circular pattern and you just repeat it until you get the result,” he says. “Imagine your ice is your whisk and your shaker is the bowl. You need to let the ice ‘whip’ the ingredients in order to mix, aerate and chill the drink quickly and efficiently.”
The importance of using good ice, in addition to proper technique, is partly to avoid having the cubes shatter in the tins, which can create an overly diluted cocktail. You’ll want to make sure the ice is slightly tempered and not dry (that is, straight out of the freezer). “Shaking in particular creates a lot of air bubbles, and by using quality ingredients, good ice and the right shaking technique, the air bubbles can create a compelling texture in the drink,” says Erik Lorincz, the owner of London bar Kwãnt and the former head bartender at the renowned American Bar at London’s Savoy hotel. The texture achieved through aeration and agitation is why a shaken Daiquiri is frothy, cohesive and as interesting texturally as it is in flavor. “The best way to see [if you’ve successfully shaken your cocktail] is when you finish shaking, pour the drink into the glass and check the ice left in your shaker,” he says. “Your ice shouldn’t be shattered, and you should find nice rounded ice cubes.”
Time is another factor to consider, and bartenders have varied perspectives on this topic. Lorincz recommends 19 seconds with a cobbler shaker (his preferred type of shaker). Aaron Wall, the owner of London’s Homeboy Bar, points out that the International Bartenders Association guidelines recommend shaking for eight seconds but says six is enough if you shake hard enough. And then there’s the question of how the time differs if a cocktail is served up instead of down. This may be best left to personal preference and interpretation, but a vigorous shake with proper ice for at least seven seconds will do.
Dry and Wet Shake
Once you have a basic understanding of standard technique, it’s time to dive into some of the specialty shaking variations. The most commonly employed one being the dry and wet shake. “The dry and wet shake’s purpose is to emulsify the egg white or the protein in the drink to create a perfect froth,” says Lorincz. The dry shake is shaking the drink without ice, and the wet shake is with ice added. If you’ve ever had a Pisco Sour or White Lady, then you’ve had a cocktail where this type of shake was used.
Some bartenders shake in the reverse order, but most dry-shake first and then shake with ice. Wall finds there are fewer, or smaller, air bubbles in the foam when it’s done in this order and feels it’s more consistent, while Bartley pulls from his research on cooking methods for his reasoning. “I've found that emulsification and aeration happen better in warmer temperatures than in colder temperatures,” says Bartley. “From my research over the years and working with chefs, a lot of pastry chefs will use warm temperatures when emulsifying their dairy and eggs, as the process is slower when ingredients are chilled.” This shaking technique is almost exclusively applied to cocktails that include egg white (or the vegan-friendly aquafaba); it’s like the cocktail version of making a soufflé.
“The hard shake doesn’t mean you shake the shaker as hard as you can,” says Lorincz. “It's a way of understanding how the ice performs in the shaker.” Essentially, it’s a three-point shake, typically done with a cobbler shaker, with choreographed motions that focus on maximizing aeration. It moves the ice around the entire shaker, rather than merely back and forth from end to end.
It’s a nuanced technique and can be challenging to perfect. “The hard shake was founded by Kauzo Uyeda, and he perfected the technique for 15 years,” says Lorincz. “I trained under him in Tokyo about 12 years ago, but today I still don’t feel confident to say, Yes, I can do the hard shake.” While Lorincz, a bartender who won the prestigious World Class bartending competition in 2010, may not feel he has yet perfected the technique, he still sees its value and applies the concept to his own shaking technique, revealing its difficulty and practicality. It can be used for any shaken cocktail. In his book “Cocktail Techniques,” Uyeda says the method is best with creams and egg whites, which can benefit from the extra aeration of the hard shake, achieving a whipped form that’s difficult to produce by other shaking methods. Lorincz recalls the classic Daiquiri as the most memorable drink that he’s had by Uyeda.
The whip shake is among the more uncommon shaking techniques, one that few bartenders outside of New York City use or even are aware of. It’s simple: Add just one or two small ice cubes or a few pieces of pebble ice to your shaker with the liquid ingredients and shake to full dilution (until the ice is gone). It results in a cocktail that’s chilled, diluted and more frothy than with an ordinary shake because there’s more air in the less-filled tins.
The technique was championed by Attaboy’s Michael McIlroy, who developed the technique as an efficient way to quickly dilute and emulsify ingredients that benefited from increased aeration, and it was quickly adopted by many other NYC bartenders. It’s used as a more efficient way to execute the laborious Ramos Gin Fizz or as a way to add some dilution and chill to high-proof Tiki cocktails that can get “dirty dumped” (i.e., not strained, pouring the entire contents of the tin) over nugget ice, such as the Zombie or Navy Grog. It also reduces wasting ice, a sustainability win.