Tips and Tricks

Learn How to Stir Cocktails like the Pros in 4 Easy Steps

Discover the science behind stirred drinks and learn how to stir cocktails

Shaken or Stirred?

Learning how to stir cocktails is a skill all budding mixologists should master.

But how do you know when to stir?

British author Ian Fleming made a controversial decision in his 1958 seminal novel ‘Casino Royale’ by making James Bond instruct a bartender to shake a variation of the Vodka Martini cocktail.

The inclusion of the shaken Vesper Martini cocktail recipe inspired a generation of cocktail aficionados, but what of it’s most memorable step?

Why is “shaken, not stirred” a touchy subject for some bartenders and why do we stir certain cocktails rather than shaking them?

When to stir a cocktail?

Cocktail Society mixologist Charlotte teaches guests how to stir cocktails at a masterclass..
Cocktail Society mixologist Charlotte teaches guests how to stir cocktails at a masterclass.

It depends on the drink, but the general rule of thumb goes:

If your drink contains only transparent liquids such as spirits, sugar syrups and bitters, you’re probably going to be stirring.

If it contains more opaque ingredients such as lemon juice, milk and/or pineapple juice, then gear up for a bumpy ride because you’re going to be shaking.

We went into further detail if you’re keen to know more about when to stir and when to shake but for now let’s focus on the stir technique.

How to stir cocktails

Even after 10+ years between the pumps, getting just the right amount of dilution can be one of the hardest techniques to master in your cocktail-making repertoire.

So, here’s a quick guide from us on how to stir cocktails, designed to help any budding bartender find their confidence:

1) Get a mixing glass or tin and fill it with ice

It helps if while you’re stirring that you steady the bottom of your mixer with your free thumb and index finger.

Be careful not to cover too much of the glass with your hand as body heat will speed up the dilution process.

2) Find the sweet spot in the ice with your spoon

We always spin the ice once or twice to secure our bar spoon.

Make sure you are touching the bottom and are right up against the edge of your mixer.

This will make the process easier and decrease the chance of any accidental aeration.

3. Pour

Pour your ingredients into your mixer and start stirring straight away, tasting at regular intervals of 30 seconds to see where you are in the dilution process.

This helps you tailor your drinks and understand how the ingredients mix and evolve.

4. Strain

Tasting good? Strain your drink into your serving vessel and add fresh ice to your drink if the recipe requires it.

This will help the drink stay perfectly diluted for longer.

And remember cocktails are a science.

So always read the recipe!

Why do we stir cocktails?

Stirring dilutes the volume or ABV of a drink by around a quarter, but crucially leaves the alcohol’s silky mouthfeel and crystal optics intact.

Compare this to shaking which dilutes the volume by about half due to the violent thrashing of the ice cubes.

They trap air bubbles inside the liquid in a process known as aeration which gives the drink a cloudy, translucent constitution.

The flavours in shaken cocktails are always much lighter and brighter due to this.

As they bounce around, small ice fragments break off and get added into the mix.

They cover more of the liquid’s surface area, cooling down and diluting the cocktail much quicker, around 12-20 seconds should be enough for most cocktails.

For example, if you add double cream to lime juice (like in a Pina Colada) it may start to split, but through the magic of dilution and aeration they combine together to make all manner of tasty treats.

So, stirring a cocktail dilutes and chills your drink but keeps the mouthfeel and look of the drink intact.

It’s this potential for precision that has made stirring the weapon of choice for drinks that need to look sharp, taste clean and be strong.

Some cocktails such as the Old Fashioned recipe in some cases can be spun down for a whopping 5 minutes.

Can you stir cocktails in the glass?

A bartender displays how to stir cocktails in the glass

Yes, you can.

We often make our famous Sloe Negroni straight in the glass.

However, for the best results, stir in a mixing glass with ice, and then strain into your cocktail glass with fresh ice.

This new ice will dilute more slowly, extending the lifespan of the drink.

Are there any exceptions to the rule?

Rules are meant to be broken, as Ian Fleming showed and there are plenty of people who prefer a shaken Martini.

Similarly, the inclusion of milk in the White Russian recipe would suggest it should be shaken, when in fact it’s stirred.

To find out more, read our full guide on when to shake or stir cocktails.

What do you need to stir cocktails?

To stir cocktails you’ll need a cocktail making kit including a bar spoon and a shaker.

To get the best results, you’ll want to use a cocktail mixing glass

What are the best stirred cocktails?

Now you’ve learnt how to stir cocktails, it’s only to be expected that you want to make some!

For us, the classic Negroni recipe is the iconic stirred cocktail. It’s simple mix of Campari, Gin and Vermouth, and it’s delicious.

Or for the whisky lovers, the classic Old Fashioned can be made in many ways, depending on the whisky you use.

For a summery treat, try the Tommy’s Margarita.

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