Among Seattle's craft bartenders, there is little debate over the question of when to shake and when to stir a cocktail. If a cocktail consists solely of spirits, it should be stirred. If there is egg white, citrus, or other juice, the cocktail should be shaken. Unfortunately not all Seattle-area bartenders follow this rule, as many bar patrons may have experienced. I recently ordered a Manhattan at The Capital Grille, and when the waiter brought it to the table in a little shaker, he set down the glass and began to shake the cocktail vigorously before pouring it. As much as I like beer with a head on it, I prefer my Manhattans foam-free.
This inconsistency is why the Washington State Bartender's Guild is publishing a guide to Seattle area bars that adhere to a strict list of criteria. Spearheaded by Robert Hess, author of The Essential Bartender's Guide and DrinkBoy.com, the guide will include bars that follow essential rules to great cocktail making, chief among them knowing when to stir or shake a cocktail. As WSBG president and Liberty owner Andrew Friedman said, "It's important to educate our entire community."
Shaking a cocktail makes it cold, dilutes the alcohol, and introduces air. For a spirits-only cocktail like a Manhattan or martini, shaking introduces too much water and air to the drink. Some people refer to this as "bruising." It makes the drink cloudy when it should be clear. Shaking is great when a drink includes ingredients in addition to spirits. Egg whites get frothier, citrus gets incorporated, and the drink gets cold. What about a dirty martini? Well, if you are adding olive brine to a cocktail, you can do whatever the hell you want with it.
Friedman says that when he takes a seat at a bar, he surveys the tools at the bartender's disposal, not just the bottles. "Do you see spoons and different strainers?" he asks. If you only see shakers, it may be a warning sign to a cocktail purist. He admits, however, that customers should be served whatever they order. If they want a shaken, dirty vodka martini, the bartender's only question should be "How many olives would you like?"
Jim German, owner of the Jimgermanbar in Waitsburg, just outside Walla Walla, cut his bartending teeth at a number of Seattle bars, Zig Zag Cafe among them. On a recent visit he remarked that he shakes some cocktails that "Murray would stir." When asked to elaborate, German said, "It's 90 degrees over here six months of the year, and people like a cold, refreshing drink. Things like whiskey should always be stirred, to maintain their clarity, but if a customer asks for a drink to be shaken, I try to accommodate. I'm not going to tell them it's déclassé. This is what hospitality is all about, after all."
This raises the question: Is a cocktail that's been shaken colder than one that has been stirred? Dave Arnold, Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center, has shared his findings on the Cooking Issues blog and at seminars at Tales of the Cocktail. You need to stir a cocktail for two minutes to get it as cold as it does from shaking for 15 seconds. No one is stirring drinks for two minutes. In his Science of Shaking blog post, among other research on the topic, he has debunked the theory that shaking a cocktail significantly raises the temperature of the drink due to friction.
And what about James Bond? The character is famous for asking for his martini to be "shaken, not stirred." The short answer is that Bond wasn't drinking a martini. In Casino Royale he orders the following: "Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?" He calls this drink a Vesper, after the beautiful double agent in the book. Lillet is a French aperitif wine that is richer and sweeter than vermouth, and benefits from a good shake. The long answer is that Bond often drank vodka martinis, and prior to the 1960s, vodka was mostly distilled from potatoes. Potato vodka can have an oily mouthfeel, so to disperse the oil Bond ordered his martinis shaken.