Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shaken or Stirred?


Which cocktails should be shaken and which ones should be stirred? If you're a student of classic mixology, you might answer, "That's easy. Drinks with eggs, dairy or fruit juices should be shaken, and 'clear' drinks made with only spirits, vermouth, etc. should be stirred." OK, the first of those mandates is seldom disputed. Stirring an egg drink? Not gonna work. But shaking a Martini? James Bond has some surprising company here.

Take the respected Savoy Cocktail Book: its mixing instructions for clear drinks are all over the map; some recipes say "stir," some say "shake." New York Times restaurant critic William Grimes' much-consulted Straight Up or on the Rocks: the Story of the American Cocktail instructs you to shake a Martini. Even the "Professor," Jerry Thomas, "couldn't make up his mind whether the Cocktail is shaken or stirred," writes David Wondrich in Imbibe! "His brandy Cocktail calls for the spoon, his gin and whiskey ones the shaker. Nor are his professional colleagues much help ... Judging by the numerous depictions of 'tossing the foaming cocktail' back and forth in a huge arc, in the 1860s and 1870s consensus favored this method -- or perhaps it was just the more picturesque one and hence was noticed more often."

That consensus still holds in, like, 99 percent of modern bars. Most drinkers like the theatricality of a shaken drink, and most bartenders are happy to oblige, especially since it's easier for them to employ only one mixing technique. Sure, your Grey Goose with olives will be cloudy with air bubbles, but it'll be drinkable.

Is "drinkable" good enough when you're paying $10-$15 for a cocktail? If you gravitate toward clear mixtures, as the Ladies often do, the answer is probably "no." There's something about a Martini, a Manhattan, a Saratoga or a Gin and It that has been deftly swirled over ice for a good minute, then strained into a chilled cocktail glass without a trace of agitation. What you get is a shimmeringly transparent drink that looks and tastes that much more elegant than its shaken sibling. And consider this: a bartender who takes the time to stir a cocktail is likely going to get its proportions and temperature right, too. Time to re-think your drink, Bond.

7 comments:

erik_flannestad said...

In regards the Savoy Cocktail Book, I'm not sure if it was a sign of the times that most drinks were shaken, if it was just sloppy editing, or if the recipes had been verbally transferred and mucked up.

I kind of get the feeling, given the number of typos I've turned up so far, that the editing was not particularly careful. Many things like drink instructions and garnishes are muddled from what we suspect is the source material. It may just have been a "cut and paste" kind of thing that most drinks are shaken.

My imagination of Craddock's involvement in the process is more or less him stopping by the office of the publisher and dropping off a big pile of recipes and books and then washing his hands of the endeavor.

He doesn't appear to have even written the introduction or benediction, as he is referred to in the third person in both.

In my opinion, for method, the Savoy Cocktail Book is a pretty bad book to use as an example.

In his "Official Mixer's Manual" Patrick Gavin Duffy (or his editors) appear to have taken much more care with preserving the proper instructions for preparing and building cocktails. He stirs probably 80% of the drinks, even the Bronx. I tend to agree.

frederic said...

I got into a discussion with John from No.9 about this. He settled it via the experiment of making me a martini both ways, and they definitely had a different taste. Not sure if stronger liquors would mask that flavor component added when shaken, but it was definitely more than the aesthetics of a cloudiness of tiny bubbles.

Anita said...

piggybacking on what Frederic said, I had a similar experience watching H. Ehrmann teach a Mixology 101 class. He told everyone the shaken/stirred rule, then had them make a Manhattan both ways to see the difference. About half the class (including H.) preferred the shaken version, which I thought was a waste of good booze.

T. Mixeur said...

It bears commenting that if it is "theatricality" a drinker craves at the watering hole, there is no finer theater than the various stirring techniques of mixologists. It is subtle and nuanced theater, with much more room for creative expression that shaking a drink allows.

Keeping the theater analogy alive, you might say that shaking is Webber and stirring is Beckett.

Of course, Webber far outdraws Beckett.

Doug Winship said...

I usually don't care whether a bartender shakes or stirs my cocktails, so long as he or she is... very... thorough. Most of the time, I prefer shaken, as it usually results in a much colder cocktail from the average bartender.
In Martinis, I have actually come to prefer the thin layer of slushy ice on the surface that comes from extensive shaking. But I don't think (in Martinis) the taste differs much.
In my own favorite Pegu, (Yes, I DO have to gas on about Pegus every time I discuss cocktails) I insist on very vigorous shaking. It has a bit of pulpy lime juice, so the rule says shake anyway, but it is amazing how many bartenders will refuse at gunpoint an order to shake a Gin cocktail.

Anonymous said...

Kind of relating to shaking or stirring, but more to the ice which is being jostled:

What do you guys use for ice trays? I want some custom trays to make different sized and shaped ice, but my efforts so far have proved fruitless.

Any leads?

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