Every recipe for a shaken cocktail tells you to simply pop ingredients into a shaker and go to town. But there’s more to shaking a drink than you may think. Here are all the mistakes you’re making when you shake a cocktail (and how to avoid them).
You’re Using the Wrong Shaker
“Most people start out with a tin and a pint glass, but that’s not the best choice,” says Kevin Denton, national mixologist for Pernod Ricard. He admits that most people are initially attracted to shaking with a pint glass because you can see the ingredients and how they come together. “The problem with that is the pint glass is pretty heavy and it’s hard to crack [the seal after shaking].” Plus, he adds, “Your buddy might pour a beer into your pint glass and walk off with it, where that’s not a problem with a metal tin.” He suggests opting for a pair of metal shaking tins which are easier to use and open.
You’ll hear the same thing from Cody Goldstein, the man behind cocktail consulting firm Muddling Memories and the drink menu at Toro Loco in New York City. He always recommends stainless steel shaker tins. “They just hold the temperature better and they’re less work,” he says. “They’re not as heavy to shake.” He finds a 28-ounce large tin and an 18-ounce short tin fit into each other the best and allow the ice enough room to move inside.
While stainless steel shakers are generally lighter, Goldstein also suggests considering weighted tins, especially those from Koriko, because they help you maintain rhythm and consistency as you learn to shake.
You’re Shaking the Wrong Drinks
Before you go shaking your Martinis like James Bond, remember that there are times to shake and times to stir. “The rule of thumb is if it has juice in it or it’s opaque, you want to shake it,” Denton says. “The exceptions to that are milk or cream or tomato juice. If you’re making something like a Ramos Gin Fizz where you want that frothy head, then you can shake it. If you’re making something like a White Russian, though, you want to roll the drink. The same goes for tomato juice [in a Bloody Mary, for instance].”
You’re Adding Your Ingredients in the Wrong Order
Build your drink starting with the cheapest ingredient first and ending with expensive booze. “That way, if you get distracted and have to start over, you won’t have to throw out your liquor,” Denton says.
You’re Building Your Drink in the Wrong Tin
Denton also points out that if you build the drink in the large tin, you may accidentally overfill the shaker. Adding all of the ingredients to the small tin will insure you don’t spill when you combine the tins.
You’re Forgetting to Dry Shake
Goldstein reminds home bartenders that if you’re using egg white in a cocktail, it’s best to dry shake the ingredients without ice. Whether you choose to do this before adding ice or after (called a reverse dry shake) is up to you. But either way, dry shaking froths the cocktail and incorporates the egg white completely.
You’re Using the Wrong Ice
Ice does more than cool down your drink as it rattles around in the shaker. Goldstein compares it to the ball-shaped whisk inside a protein shaker, which breaks up the liquid and aerates the mix. “If you’re using ice that doesn’t hold its form as well, it’s not going to aerate your cocktail as well,” he explains. “The chipped ice you see at banquets or sometimes at pubs, that dilutes down very quickly and doesn’t hold. The ideal ice would be a firm ice cube from a one-inch silicone mold.”
Ice straight from the freezer is also preferable to ice that’s been sitting out all evening. As ice sits, it sweats, which adds extra water and dilution to the drink as you shake. You can control dilution more accurately with drier ice straight from the mold. Test it by touching it. If it sticks to your fingers, it’s dry.
You’re Not Adding Enough Ice
Goldstein often tells people to fill the small shaker tin about three-quarters full with ice to get enough dilution and aeration while leaving enough space in the shaker. Meanwhile, Denton points out that if you use too little ice, the cubes will melt and add a lot of water by the time they get done chilling and aerating properly. He jokes, “Ice is like us doing chores. It goes faster if you have buddies.” When in doubt, err on the side of more ice.
You’re Holding the Shaker Wrong
When Goldstein teaches cocktail classes, he compares holding a shaker to holding a baseball. “When you throw a baseball straight up in the air, it lands down in your hand with very little velocity and force,” he says. “If you take that baseball and throw it against the wall, it has a lot more impact.” So shaking a cocktail horizontally is more effective than doing so vertically. “The motion of shaking up and down is only moving the ingredients together,” he adds. “You’re not getting any type of dilution. It’s not really aerating the cocktail that well. You want to make sure you have some force.”
He suggests placing your non-dominant hand on the bottom and your dominant hand on top. Keep the tins at 9 and 3 on the clock, and shake over your shoulder away from your face. While that’s a good place to start, Goldstein adds that from there you can develop your own special style of shaking.
If you’re making drinks for your pals, be sure the small tin is facing behind you, away from those dear friends. “In case, for some reason, the tins should open up, it will get on you instead of your guests,” he says. Now that’s true friendship.
You’re Not Shaking Long Enough
“If you don’t shake it enough or don’t add enough ice to certain cocktails, they can be too citrus-forward and not as balanced,” Goldstein says. “The same goes for any time of cream cocktail.”
“I typically tell people to shake for at least 10 seconds,” he adds, explaining that this amount of time usually cools the drink to the perfect range between 23 and 18 degrees. As with the amount of ice you use, it’s also better to over-shake than come in under. But Denton points out that you want to shake quickly with smaller ice, which melts faster. If you’re using larger cubes of ice, you want to shake slightly longer to dilute properly.