To Shake Or Not To Shake, That Is The Question

In the 1964 film Goldfinger, Secret Agent James Bond, 007 first orders his Vodka Martini “Shaken and not stirred” and from then on a legend, a cliché and an argument were born. 

So which is it?  Shaken or Stirred, and does it matter?  The answer is yes, it does matter, but is one better than the other?  Let’s look at the differences and then decide.

When you shake a cocktail you “bruise” the liquor and end up crushing and melting more of the ice so, you get a drink with more water in it, along with it being a tad bit weaker.  (More on “bruising” later.)  By breaking up the ice you also end up with a cloudy drink, and that will often have little ice particles floating on the top of your drink, plus you end up with a much colder drink than one that’s been stirred.  Those little bits of ice do melt quickly and the cloudiness will clear up after about a minute… so, does it really matter?  Since you do end up with a colder, weaker drink, yes it does matter.  But does it matter to you? That’s the real question.

When you stir your cocktail, it doesn’t get quite so cold. Though it will have a nice chill, you also don’t smash-up the ice so it doesn’t melt as quickly and you don’t end up with those little ice crystals we talked about.  Your drink will stay nice and clear and will, of course, be stronger.

“Stir --- never shake. Bruises the gin.”  (Patrick Dennis to Mr. Babcock, Auntie Mame)

When I was a young journeyman bartender a great old boniface named Pete explained to me that you never shake a gin martini because it bruises the gin, but you do shake a vodka martini because vodka doesn’t bruise.  When I looked at him as if he’d just shown his dog (also named Pete) a card trick, he further explained that gin has herbs in it and that’s what bruises.  Pete, rest his sainted soul, was wrong.  All liquors bruise when shaken. 

So what is “bruising” (the gin, or vodka or rum…)?  Bruising simply refers to diluting the liquor with the melted ice (water) thus making the drink weaker.  Those who prefer their cocktails shaken like this because it makes for a more smooth drink.  Diluted alcohol means less burn in the throat.  It is important to note that the amount of water in your shaken cocktail is really quite negligible and you do still get your full measure of liquor

A good general rule is never shake gin, or brown-liquor cocktails like Manhattans*, Side-cars**, Negronis*** and the like.  Go ahead and shake the Vodka, white rum and of course, the famous Vesper**** to your heart’s content.  Remember, all shaking does is cloud the drink for a minute and add a little water so, if you want your cocktail really cold and you like the sound of that shaker going chicka-chicka-chicka (and who doesn’t!?) have yours “Shaken, not stirred”.  Otherwise, pour your ingredients into a glass pitcher, stir gently and strain.  Cheers!


*Rye, sweet vermouth, a dash of bitters and a maraschino cherry.
**Brandy, Cointreau and lemon juice.
***Gin, sweet vermouth and Campari.
****3 parts Gordons Gin, 1 part Vodka ½ part Kina Lillet served up with a twist of lemon.

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