Ask the Bartender: Shaken or Stirred?

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It's that time of week when we answer the questions you're too drunk or shy to ask...This question comes from Gretchen:

OK, on the subject of martinis, I've always wondered why some bartenders shake a martini and others stir. It seems like the nicer the place, the more I see stirring. Is there a cool factor or snobbery to it? Do bartenders who stir look down on those who shake?

I understand the mystique behind this topic, I do. The well-punctuated shake and the graceful stir each have their own pluses, with the right bartender, and everyone wants to look the right kind of cool. Also James Bond, blah, blah, blah... However, I have been over this debate for approximately 12 years. There is no hard and fast rule, but one method is more appropriate than the other.

You shake a drink when you want to get it really cold (although I'd like to test that theory with a thermometer to see just how much colder it actually gets). Bars also shake drinks to add perceived value, in terms of both flair and volume. Bar ice is smaller than ice from your refrigerator; agitating the crap out of the cocktail thusly causes the ice to melt in to the drink. Whatever drink you're making will be diluted ever so slightly in the process. Sidecars, up margaritas, and cosmos all get the shake. I would never shake a martini unless someone asked because the potency and feeling thereof is the whole point of that drink. I also think that the vodka and gin lose just a tiny bit of their mouthfeel and come off as less unctuous.

My feeling about stirring over shaking also apply to Manhattans. When someone orders a drink that's all booze, stir it, unless they tell you differently or you ask. (Maybe you've heard someone say "don't bruise the gin?" Well, that's what they mean -- stir, don't shake.) The way everybody likes working the triceps in this town, don't be afraid to ask for a stir or tell the tender not to shake your drink.

So that's why the two techniques are different, but just because bartenders do things a certain way doesn't mean you must. At home, I shake the shit out of my martinis. I like the ice shards, and I like it cold, cold, cold, and I don't care if the gin gets beat up or that the cocktal sages think it's gauche. It's my goddamn martini and I'll ruin it if I want to.

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