2. Showtime: Shaking, Stirring and Stealing the Show
There’s something magic about a cocktail bar in full-swing. The mood, music, smells and sheer efficiency and showmanship of a well-oiled team of bartenders slinging cocktails with speed, precision and a touch of well-judged flair. There’s a reason the bar is often the vocal point of a venue. It’s a show.
We’ve handed you the shaker here, because these three steps are what cocktails are all about. It’s a sensory experience to savour, a ritual of fine tuning the perfect drink, and most importantly, good clean boozy fun.
The good news is that the most elegant stirring or rhythmic shaking isn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to the liquid in the glass. Preparing cocktails is genuinely simple, and the kit is minimal, cheap and readily available. There are however, a few evident truths about the process worth bearing in mind.
We shake or stir cocktails for three reasons: to chill, dilute and inform the texture of the finished drink. Shaking will aerate the cocktail, creating a light, bright, almost creamy mouthfeel. Stirring will not, keeping things silky smooth. These textures will in turn, inform how you taste the cocktail and some will argue that a shaken martini, for example, will loose some of its more delicate aromas and tastes with the agitation from shaking.
The aerated texture from shaking will have a lifespan dependent on the ingredients in the drink. Egg white, aquafaba and coffee are all good at not only creating aeration, but retaining it too. A daiquiri on the other hand, comprising rum, lime and sugar, will loose its aeration after shaking relatively quickly. Consider quaffing your shaken drinks as soon as possible after straining! And with that, I would personally recommend double- straining drinks with a foaming/creamy texture, but only single straining a cocktail like a daiquiri to preserve/maximise its aeration.
As far as how best to shake? Vigorously for 15 seconds oughta do it! What’s more consequential than shaking-technique is the ice used. Opt for larger, solid pieces of ice fresh from the freezer for maximum aeration, and set aside smaller irregular shards of broken up ice.
And then there’s stirring. If you're using a mixing glass, ideally pop it in the freezer for 30 minutes as you would your glasses. Unlike shaking, stirring doesn’t reach the same sweet- spot of dilution and temperature anywhere near as fast. The cocktail won’t get as cold, before it starts to over-dilute, so by ‘freezing’ your stirring glass, you can give it a head start.
Stirring technique? Be swift yet smooth. Stir with your spoon down the side of the mixing vessel, so as not to agitate the ice, but instead let it spin, guided by your spoon. The skill here is knowing when your cocktail has the perfect level of dilution. This is particularly important for a stirred drink served up, such as a Martini. I like to use a reusable metal straw to do a quick taste. A good barometer is when any discernible burn/harshness from the alcohol has mellowed.
In summation: Shake passionately. Stir patiently. Use decent ice. Consider texture. Have a good time.