Does your drink call for a stir or a shake? Mixing method is a common sticking point for enthusiasts in the preparation of classic cocktails. A drink shaken when it ought to be stirred can have improper texture, dilution, appearance, and flavor; likewise, a drink stirred when it should have been shaken may have unemulsified dairy or egg, high temperature, or poor distribution of ingredients (particularly for long drinks, in the last case).
Many classic drinks that should be stirred are shaken instead. Martinis and Manhattans, when prepared in an average bar, are often victims of a shaking when a stirring would have been traditionally correct.
Why did the chosen method start to shift? Some lay the blame at the feet of the world’s best loved fictional MI6 agent, James Bond, who famously ordered a shaken variation on a martini which came to be known as the Vesper (martinis are traditionally stirred). But I think the mix-up more likely arose from the compounded habits of a half-century lazy or rushed bartending (shaking is way faster than stirring).
Well, I stir drinks that call for stirring, and assumed I was doing right by my cocktails. I also assumed that stirring with ice was the simple act of jamming a barspoon in drink, orbiting the spoon around the center of the glass for a good 20 or 30 seconds. Then I saw this video:
So I had been stirring incorrectly by not keeping my spoon back to the glass, causing the ice to jostle and presumably affecting the drink. But how was this changing the drink, if at all? I decided to test the difference myself by preparing a martini according to each stirring method and comparing the result. Here’s what I learned:
Stirring the right way
Holy hell, it’s tough to learn to do this right. I imagine this is how little kids feel when they are first learning to write. You have to train your fingers to move the handle to keep the spoon’s back face in constant harmony with the inside edge of the glass, all the while keeping enough speed that you are quickly conveying the gin and vermouth throughout the ice to chill. After about 30 seconds of keeping this up and finally straining the drink into a cocktail glass, the end result was a delicious and smooth martini. But will it be noticeably better than the improperly stirred version?
Stirring the wrong way
This time, I allowed the spoon to spin around and push the ice violently around the mixing vessel. After about 30 seconds of stirring, I strained it into a cocktail glass. Visually, the drink looked the same except for a few small chips of ice floating on its surface. Not as appealing, but not something that would stop me from drinking it. These chips melted after a few seconds, about the amount of time it took to make a twist for garnish. However, even after melting, the ice chips weren’t done interrupting the experience of the martini; the first couple of sips were a bit overdiluted due to the meltwater. In a drink like this, I believe overdilution actually makes the flavor of the drink harsher. After the thin layer of wateriness was sipped away, though, the difference between the drinks was negligible.
So, does it matter?
Yes, it does, and I was surprised by the difference it made. I will be stirring my drinks this way from now on. You can also “cheat” and stir with a stirring rod, metal chopstick, or thin spoon handle. Cheating like this will make it so you don’t have to focus on the position of the spoon face. Cheers!