Shaken or Stirred? Mixologist Micah Olson Explains the Difference

Park your butt on a bar stool at any decent bar in town, and you'll see a whole lot of shaking going on. These days (the third wave of the American Cocktail Revolution), lots of cocktails are shaken, though few are stirred. Questions are: why and how?

See also: James Bond Now Drinks Heineken. So What? 8 Tips on Mixing the Perfect Cocktail from 4 Local Mixologists

Micah Olson, bartender-owner of Bar Crudo, has some simple answers that should make the whole shaken versus stirred dichotomy as clear as crystal ice.

But let's put style before substance. If you've paid an inkling of attention when a mixologist has made you a shaken cocktail, you've surely noticed each person has his or her own distinctive shake. Some bartenders shake vigorously, others shake desultorily. Some throw the canister over their shoulder, others do an up-and-down movement that brings percussionists and Conga lines to mind. And some of them (I won't name names here) appear to be showing off their biceps to snag girls. Not kidding. I've seen it.

According to Olson, shaking is a bartender's "song and dance" and "mating call." See what I'm saying? But here's the important thing: the shake should be hard and long (don't even go there), allowing the liquid to move all the way from one end of the canister to the other.

And by the way, two-fisted shaking isn't showing off; it's just saving time.

Now here are a few facts and rules to file away:

  • You should shake any drink which has citrus, dairy or egg in it.
  • The point of shaking is to incorporate ingredients (in the case of egg, to emulsify it) and to get the drink cold.
  • Shaking aerates the drink and makes it lighter.
  • Drinks should be shaken for at least six seconds, which adds the proper amount of dilution as the ice melts into the cocktail.
  • A drink that begins with four ounces of spirit will have an extra 1/4 ounce of liquid (although the alcohol content remains the same) after being shaken.
  • Drinks that have not been properly shaken will taste strong and give alcohol burn.
  • Properly shaken drinks "lengthen" the cocktail.
  • As for stirring cocktails, Olson notes that every bartender shakes but not every bartender stirs. "The bar spoon," he says, "got buried in the drawer after the Golden Age of cocktails. The trade and its nuances got left behind."

    Olson says "When you're stirring, you're looking for clarity, not cloudiness, ice shards or extra dilution."

    Drinks that should always be stirred and not shaken are Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Martinis. To prove his point, Olson makes two Old Fashioneds, one shaken, one stirred in a beautiful cut glass container and strained with a wide silver spoon. The recipe is exactly the same for each, but the stirred cocktail is clear and elegant, while the shaken one is cloudly and acidic, offering a sharp alcohol bite.

    As for the whole James Bond shaken, not stirred martini thing, Olson says, the drink Bond actually requested was The Vesper -- which contains two parts London Dry gin, 1 part dry Russian vodka and 1/2 part Kina Lillet (a fortified wine similar to vermouth). In Casino Royale, Bond reeled off the measurements and ingredients he wanted, eventually naming the drink after the novel's lead female character Vesper Lynd.

    "He kind of screwed that up for a lot of people," Olson says.

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