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Cocktail Time – Cocktail Science – Part 2

Hello everyone, my name is Himanshu Desai working as a Senior Bartender at Rogue Trader, Dubai and through this write up I’m going to share a few techniques or make some suggestions for creating perfectly balanced cocktails. No I don’t call myself a “cocktail guru” or an expert but I would like to share some of the very interesting facts and techniques I’ve learned over the years behind the bar. Well I believe you’re reading this because you’re already an accomplished person working behind the bar or a person who would like to start mixing drinks. Either way these tips would surely help you to construct your drinks in the best way possible.


Cocktail shaking is a violent activity which is fun for bartenders as well as guests who are watching it. Shaking usually chills, dilutes and aerates a drink in say about 12-15 seconds, after that the drink stops changing radically and reaches the required equilibrium. Shaking for longer won’t hurt of course. Well everywhere we go, bartenders have different styles of shaking. Some even look like they are dancing while doing so which is completely normal as long as you look confident and appear to be enjoying doing it. So yes your shaking style will not affect the temperature or dilution of your drink. Key is to use enough ice as using less ice results in poor chilling and greater dilution.


Stirring seems and sounds so easy when it comes to cocktails. Isn’t it? But merely spinning the spoon definitely won’t get you what you are trying or planning to achieve. With little bit of practice, you can master the art of stirring cocktails. Ok! So next and the most important thing is to understand when to stir and when to shake your cocktails and to ask yourself a question that what exactly you’re planning to achieve. Stirring definitely helps to maintain the clarity and the flavor of distilled spirit. You must stir when it comes to cocktails like Manhattan, Rob Roy, Martinez and of course an Old-Fashioned. A shaken Old-Fashioned? OMG! I’m sure that you don’t even want to imagine that. Stirring also gives you the better control over dilution and doesn’t aerate your drink especially when it comes to above mentioned cocktails. And now I believe it’s not very difficult to understand why I would not shake those cocktails.

Shaking VS Stirring

The major difference between shaking and stirring is texture of the finished cocktail. Shaking and mixing are two intends to the same end. Which is to reduce the temperature of a drink and to dilute the ingredients. Though the purpose is same, the final cocktail would definitely be different. Water plays an essential role in any cocktail. And when you make a cocktail, you introduce water into the drink by using either of these two techniques. I mean of course there are other methods as well like “Throwing or Rolling” your cocktails but to be honest I’m not really a fan of that so let’s concentrate on stirring and shaking. As ice starts to melt in the drink, as per the very basic nature of physics, it chills your drink. So there’s no chilling without dilution.

Both stirring and shaking have the same purpose, still they aren’t identical. Compared to shaking, stirring is a delicate process that slowly chill down the drink but you surely have a better control over dilution. But the common mistakes people usually make are to stir your drink too little or to stir your drink way too much which affects the final character of the drink a lot. Take for example an Old-Fashioned, it’s just whiskey, sugar and bitters. But ask yourself how many bars around you can perfectly balance it? So it’s essential to know the perfect balance.

Shaking at other hand is much more violent activity than stirring. But it cools down the drink so much faster. According to “James McGovern, Head Bartender at Rogue trader, Dubai, 10 seconds of shaking is equal to a minute of stirring. With 20ml water dilution while shaking and 30ml water dilution while stirring.”

So now the question is “Why not to shake all the cocktails and save time?” because shaking actually aerates the drink creating small bubbles that change the overall experience how the drink settles on the tongue. The bubbles will settle down to the surface and disappear, but definitely not before the drink has warmed up too much which won’t taste the way it is supposed to.

So when to Shake and when to stir? There’s no rocket science involved of course.

  • Shake your drink which includes Citrus, Syrups or an Egg-White
  • Stir when you have only spirit based ingredients. Like an Old-Fashioned, Manhattan, Rob Roy or a classic Gin martini.

Wet Ice Vs Dry Ice (Ice straight out from the freezer)

Ice is like cold batteries. You need to provide drainage for them the moment you remove them from the freezer. Because if they sit in their own water, they will lose coldness and size of course.

Ice taken straight out from the freezer has a dry surface and will stick to your fingers when touched as ice freezes the moisture on your skin. Ice will get wet if sat in the Ice-well for about 20-30 minutes and will start melting and loses its size and would dilute your drinks quickly. So it’s obvious that the ice out straight from the freezer would dilute your drink slower while shaking or stirring. That thin layer of water on surface of each ice, would add up extra water going in your drink because eventually it’s going to melt quicker.

Well! I agree to the fact that no matter what, we just cannot keep taking ice directly from the freezer every time you want to make a drink. But what I suggest here is

  • Fill up your Ice-Well completely as by doing this, ice will melt much slower than that half way filled Ice-Well.
  • If possible, replace the ice after every hour.
  • While shaking your cocktail, make sure to use a smaller tin to mix all the ingredients in, and a larger tin full of ice and to drain out the water inside by a strainer and then seal the shaker.

Reverse Dry Shaking

Dry shaking is a very common technique used when an egg-white is added in the drink. So to start off with, you shake all the ingredients without adding any ice, and afterwards you add the ice and shake again. So basically dry shake helps to emulsify the proteins present in an egg-white and it will aerate the cocktail and give you a very nice foamy texture which looks so beautiful and cocktail becomes smooth on your palate.

So What’s reverse dry shake then?

I’m not really sure where and when it was originated (Editors Note – Tristan Stephenson AKA the “Curious Bartender” came up with the reverse dry shake… – info courtesy Ulric Nijs) . I do remember that couple of years back when my friend told me about it, my reaction was weird to be honest. I asked him why would you do that? He just replied “Because it gives you much better foam and texture.” I was like alright! Let’s try it. But I definitely had to find out the actual logic behind that. And then when I found out, I realized that all of us were doing it completely wrong way all these years.

Reverse Dry Shake
Reverse Dry Shake – Pic Courtesy Tales of the Cocktail

So the reverse dry shake is the same technique but done other way where you shake all the ingredients with ice first and then dry shake.

So basically ice has an habit of knocking out air from the foam so it definitely makes more sense to dry shake afterwards. By doing this, it would surely gives you the much better foam and the texture that doesn’t even need double straining. Try it folks!

By Himanshu Desai