Shaking a cocktail is the iconic moment that’s at the centre of the cocktail experience… but do you know why and how is it done? If not all cocktails require shaking, is it worth shaking any?
Is it all about the theatre – that Instagram rich magic?
Learning how to shake a cocktail is a masterstroke of mixing technique that liberates flavours and textures by chilling and diluting a drink to perfection.
The Society Pro Tip: taste the difference
If you’re reading this and thinking “nah it’s all a show, just throw the ingredients over ice and job’s done.” I recommend you try a cocktail before and after a proper shake to resolve any doubt you have.
Why Shake a Cocktail: what does shaking a cocktail do?
Shaking a drink with ice mixes the ingredients and rapidly cools and dilutes them. The result is the perfect liquid temperature for drinking alcohol and dilution that lowers ABV allowing subtle flavours to combine.
You can shake a drink without ice, this is sometimes called emulsifying or dry shaking. This rapidly mixes a drink and helps create a beautiful froth.
How to Shake a Cocktail: Using Different Types of Cocktail Shaker
There are two main varieties: The Boston Shaker and the Three-Part Shaker (sometimes called a cobbler), then there are many variations loosely based on them.
If you are a professional use a Boston Shaker. If you are not a professional, use a Boston Shaker. You see where we’re going with this.
The Boston is the most efficient, most hygienic and the simplest to use as you can see what is going on as half of it is glass. There are hundreds of brands to choose from; we’re big fans of Koriko.
How to Shake a Cocktail: 6 Easy Steps
I am going to focus on the Boston Shaker. If it’s your first time, watch a YouTube video first and don’t shake when inebriated. We will assume you are right-handed, (sorry lefties! Hopefully you are used to switching instructions around).
Have both the Boston Tin and the Boston Glass next to each other on your bar at home or at work.
Step 1) With your left hand hold the bottom of the Boston Glass and pour your ingredients in with your right hand – always measure ingredients and follow drink specs.
Step 2) Add ice to the top of the glass. Keep your left hand at the bottom of the Boston Glass to stabilize it.
Step 3) The fiddly bit. With your left hand hold the Boston Glass with the ice and ingredients in on the bar, don’t lift it.
With your right hand take the Boston Tin, with the base facing you. Place the Boston Tin at a right angle on to the Boston Glass. Slide the tin on top of the glass until you feel a seal form.
Gently tap the top of the combined Boston Shaker on the base of the tin part. At this point a vacuum should have been created inside the shaker.
Step 4) Place your left hand on the join between the glass and the shaker, and turn it upside down, placing the tin on the bar and the glass facing the sky.
Place your right hand on top of the glass, lift slightly, and place your left hand on the bottom of the shaker, the tin.
Step 5) Be aware of your surroundings. Then with the top and bottom of the shaker firmly held in two hands, shake forward and back not side to side.
The glass half going over your shoulder – this is a health and safety thing. After all, you don’t want the glass flying out at your guests!
Ensure all the liquid and ice goes from one end of the shaker to the other with each movement. Shake Hard. Commit to it! No one likes an apologetic shake.
Shake for between 10-15 seconds. The Boston Tin should frost, that’s good.
Step 6) This will require the most practice. It’s all about precision, not power.
Place the Boston Shaker tin side down on your bar. Grip the shaker with your left hand and place your thumb where the glass and tin lie flush at the join.
Using the palm of your right hand “tap” just to the right of your left thumb, where the tin and glass start to separate.
There is a sweet spot here and no matter how strong the vacuum the Boston tin and glass will separate allowing you to open the shaker. Then simply use a cocktail strainer to pour the liquid into your glass.
How to properly shake a cocktail: Myth-busting
Myth One: Some shakers are better than others.
Nope, some are easier to use, some look cooler. I especially like gun metal matt black equipment or classic copper colour equipment, but it makes no difference to the end cocktail provided the equipment is used properly. I recommend the Boston simply because it is easiest to clean, easiest to use and the widest available.
Myth Two: Some shake styles are better than others.
Nope, provided the bartender has shaken end to end for 10-15 seconds, with a full shaker of ice, the results of any committed shake will be almost identical due to a liquid reaching thermal equilibrium (as cold and as diluted as it’s going to get in the shaker environment).
No amount of ‘Japanese hard shaking’, or ‘wristy, elbow-y, pinkie finger protruding, pouty lippy, eyebrow raising, frowny forehead because you’re concentrating too hard face’ will change that science.
The Society Top Tips:
Fine strain every drink. Floating ice particles on a drink add nothing, and irate old school cocktail connoisseurs. It’s worth the extra few seconds, so check out our guide to straining a cocktail and use a fine strainer.
Practice without liquid to master your technique. Do it on the sofa in front of a film a thousand times, it will become second nature, then when making drinks you can focus on finer details.
Try your cocktails before they go in the glass! This way if they need corrections, it is super simple, and you have not used the glassware.
Smile and enjoy yourself. While committing to your shake is vital, if you take yourself too seriously you can look a bit daft. It is all about creating a drink that brings joy, delight or comfort. Therefore, enjoy the process and loosen up.
Want to continue your cocktail education? Check out our Bar Knowledge Section.