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Shaken or Stirred?

A New York City mixologist gives us the lowdown on the proper way to prepare classic cocktails.

Fine Cooking Issue 97
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Before we consider the question of whether to shake or stir, let’s pause to consider a certain fictional spy’s influence on the answer. Here’s James Bond ordering a martini in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953):

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep Champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large, thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

Ordering a custom-made martini—shaken, not stirred—would have turned heads in the 1950s, when martinis were customarily stirred to preserve the drink’s clarity. That, presumably, is why Bond did it. But before we blame the man for altering the course of 20th-century cocktails, it’s important to understand that drink preparation, and the methodologies behind it, have varied over time. After ice became widely available in the latter half of the 19th century, cold drinks of all types were mixed and chilled according to the wisdom—and trends—of the day. Some bartenders shook; some stirred.

The big chill

Bond seemed more concerned about the temperature of his cocktail than its appearance; hence his unusual request. Let’s just say he was smarter about outsmarting the bad guy than he was about ordering a drink. You don’t have to shake a martini to get it good and cold. In fact, the temperature of a cocktail is determined by everything the liquid comes in contact with, from the moment it leaves the bottle until it’s served. A cocktail served in a chilled glass and made with well-chilled equipment results in an ice-cold drink, whether it’s shaken or stirred.

Shake it up

The Whiskey Smash, a perfect candidate for shaking.

Cocktails containing citrus, cream, or eggs should be shaken. Sure, shaking liquids with ice chills them, but shaking also mixes the ingredients thoroughly and incorporates air for a frothy texture and opaque appearance. There is one key point to remember: As soon as you add ice to your shaker the clock starts ticking, so it’s best to have a chilled serving glass with fresh ice and any garnishes ready before you shake the drink.

My method for shaking is simple. After combining the ingredients in a chilled cocktail shaker, add ice and the top of the shaker. If shaken for too long, the ice will overdilute the drink, so shake hard for 7 to 10 seconds; then immediately strain the cocktail into a chilled glass over fresh ice. A great shaken drink is the Whiskey Smash, a spicy-sweet mix of rye whiskey, simple syrup, lemon, and mint. The crushed lemon and mint give the drink a cloudy look, but the flavors are smooth and true.

Create a stir

I’d never stirred my drinks properly until Audrey Saunders taught me how to prepare a martini at her New York City cocktail bar, Pegu Club. She showed me that stirring properly, with the right equipment, yields a cold, beguilingly clear martini—among other drinks—and I’ve never looked back. The best cocktails for stirring are those composed entirely of spirits (no juices or other ingredients added to the mix). Stirring helps achieve even dilution and a crystal-clear presentation.

Again, the method is straightforward. Pour the ingredients into a chilled mixing glass or shaker and add ice. Hold the glass at the base with your index finger and thumb. Insert a long-handled spoon into the glass, grip the spoon like a pencil, and stir quickly for about 10 seconds. Stir in a fluid motion that won’t agitate the liquid or create air bubbles. Then strain the drink into a chilled glass (over fresh ice, if appropriate) and serve.

The Martinez is one of my favorite stirred cocktails. A predecessor of the dry martini, it combines gin and sweet vermouth with maraschino liqueur and bitters. One of the first mentions of The Martinez appeared in the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bar-Tenders Guide. Thomas called for it to be shaken in accordance with the trend of his time. I don’t know how Bond would feel about it, but I’m glad we know better now.


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