Cocktail 101: How to Shake a Cocktail

Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.


[Photographs: Jennifer Hess]

Now that you've mastered stirring, you're ready to move on to the other way to mix a cocktail: shaking.

All sorts of implements may be used to shake a cocktail:

  • A glass jar with a tight lid
  • A paint shaker and a new, clean paint can
  • A three-piece metal (or cobbler) shaker
  • A two-piece metal (or Parisian/French) shaker
  • A two-piece Boston shaker, consisting of a shaking tin and a mixing glass

The jar is perfectly fine if you're new to this game and don't want to invest a lot of money in equipment yet. The paint shaker is probably impractical for most people, but if you want to try it, let me know how it works.

20110117last.jpgThe cobbler shaker is where many people start, especially since it's the most commonly found cocktail shaker in most housewares stores, and the Parisian or French shaker is now showing up in certain swanky cocktail lounges. It's the Boston shaker, though, that's most commonly used among bartenders.

The biggest advantages I've found in using a Boston shaker instead of a cobbler shaker are:

  • Boston shakers generally have a larger capacity than most cobbler shakers on the market. A larger capacity allows more room for the cocktail and ice to move around in the shaker, which leads to more efficient mixing and dilution.
  • Bostons are easier to open than cobblers are. I'm sure many of you have shaken a drink in a cobbler shaker, removed the cap, strained the cocktail, and then been unable to open the damn thing to wash it out and make a new cocktail.

Again with the Lectures! How Do I Shake It?

Don't worry, shaking is a pretty easy technique to master. Unlike stirring, shaking allows you to express personal style and wit, which are always fun guests at a cocktail party. (Not convinced? Check out these Shaker Faces and maybe you'll change your mind.)

What you'll need:

  • One cocktail shaker (for the purposes of this post, I'll be demonstrating a Boston shaker)
  • The ingredients for your cocktail
  • Ice

Even this guy can do it.

What you'll do:

  1. Chill your serving glass. You can store it for a short time in the freezer or a longer time in the fridge, or you can fill it with a mix of ice and water and set aside for 5 minutes.
  2. Measure and pour your ingredients into the mixing glass, without ice. This is really a matter of personal style, to be frank. I prefer to pour the ingredients without the ice because it helps me to watch what I'm doing, so I don't over- or underpour one or more ingredients. Also, if I'm mixing in front of a guest, it makes it easier for them to see the cocktail being built in the glass.
  3. Add ice to mixing glass. I usually fill the glass to between two thirds and three quarters full of ice. The size of the ice does not matter much here. But keep this in mind: If you're using large chunks or cubes, you'll need to shake longer to break up the ice and achieve proper chilling and dilution. Smaller ice requires a shorter shake.
  4. Place the mixing tin over the top of the glass. Using the heel of your hand, tap sharply against the base of the tin to seal the shaker. If you've sealed it properly, you should be able to pick the entire shaker up from your counter or table just by lifting the tin.
  5. Hold the glass away from your guests, in your dominant hand over your shoulder. If anything leaks from the shaker, it will leak away from your guests and behind you instead of spraying your guests in the face.
  6. Shake vigorously for at least 15 seconds. You want to break up the ice and mix everything thoroughly. A short, wimpy shake will not achieve this. You don't need to go crazy, though. You should hear the ice rattling around in the shaker, striking the sides, top, and bottom. Let the shaker tell you how vigorous is vigorous enough.
  7. Holding the mixing tin in your non-dominant hand, with the glass pointing toward the ceiling, tap the heel of your dominant hand against the mixing tin to break the shaker open. The best demonstration of this I've ever seen is from Seattle bartender Jamie Boudreau's Raising the Bar video on shaking a cocktail. At the 2:00 minute mark, Jamie explains how to break apart a Boston shaker.
  8. Remove the mixing glass from the tin and set aside, leaving the cocktail and ice in the tin. Meanwhile, dump icewater (if using) from the serving glass. Strain shaken cocktail into serving glass. Garnish appropriately.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and liqueur auteur. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.