June 10th, 2008

Shaken or Stirred?

James Bond pours a martini

This post also appears on the LUPEC Boston blog as a companion piece to an article I wrote for the LUPEC Boston cocktail column in the latest Weekly Dig, which will be out in print tomorrow.

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 book 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 I 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.

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19 Responses to “Shaken or Stirred?”

  1. Adam

    Agreed that a transparent cocktail looks beautiful in the glass. Agreed also that it might taste better. Can you really taste those tiny bubbles? And some people claim that a bit of agitation adds some texture to the drink and it’s actually a good thing; I’m not sure one way or the other.

    But I don’t think that the vast, vast majority of bartenders — whether they stir or shake — will ever get the proportions right on a martini! Or remember/bother to put in some orange bitters. And save the olive for a salad or perhaps some tapenade to accompany the martini…

  2. Jonathan

    The key to a shaken martini is to let it rest for a minute, before pouring it into the cocktail glass. After I shake ours, I let it rest while I dry off the olives, skewer them, and get the cocktail glasses out of the freezer. By the time I pour the gin martini, it is as crystal clear as a mountain stream and twice as cold! See my martini mixing instructions here:


  3. ljclark

    Jeez, Adam! While a properly proportioned martini is one of the most elusive of humankind’s pleasures, surely you’ve found a bartender or two out there who does it right. And don’t knock the olives. Since when did we have to abandon olives in a “proper” martini?

    While we’re on the subject of proper — thanks for weighing in with that blog post of yours, Jonathan. But I’m going to have to go ahead and disagree with a couple of things. First, freezing your gin or vodka? The whole point of shaking/stirring over cracked ice is to essentially introduce enough cold water to balance and smooth the spirits in the drink, so starting at room temp makes more sense. (Though it’s smart to refrigerate the vermouth.) Second, can we all get over our vermouth phobia? If people genuinely hate the taste of vermouth, why don’t they just order “Bombay Sapphire straight up with a twist?” Because it sounds much cooler to say, “Extra dry martini, please.”

  4. Adam

    Lauren: I haven’t ordered too many martinis in bars; when I find a good bartender I generally prefer to order a drink with a bit more flavor (why order a martini if I can drink a Last Word?) … but I do like the occasional martini, and I make it myself with 2:1 gin:vermouth ratio, two or three dashes of orange bitters, and a twist. The twist, I think, gives the martini a nice crisp/bright flavor, as opposed to the olive which just adds a bit of salt.

    I have tried ordering martinis with “extra vermouth” and I usually just get a weird look. And orange bitters? Forget about it! Maybe now that the Angostura Orange is out that will change.

    By the way, I finally managed to get a bottle of those bitters today, and in honor of this post stirred up a martini with a few dashes. Awesome stuff! Zesty, with a bright orange flavor that reminds me of Cointreau… a tasty addition for my martinis!

  5. Todd

    Gin, vermouh and biters is called a Turf cocktail not a Martini…Jack Townsed 1951

  6. Todd

    As a follower of Embury, I go by what he says…”(Eye appeal), A substantial part of the charm of certain cocktails such as the Martini and the Manhattan is the clear, almost scintillating translucence. A stirred cocktail will remain clear; a shaken cocktail will be cloudy or even muddy in appearance….Some people care more for the stinging cold of the shaken cocktail than they do for its appearance. So, if you do not mind a muddy-looking drink shake to your heart’s content. (Embury 108).

    It is important to understand rules before you break them… like in art or design… but in the end I stand by my golden rule…. life is to short to drink somethng you don’t like… that goes for me and my guests

  7. todd

    or the Astoria (gin vermouth orange bitters)

  8. Gareth

    “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.”

    Well put and I would agree. A 30’s Manhattan in a chilled glass will do it for me.

  9. Adam


    You’re right; Astoria, does appear to be the same drink I’m describing:

    … but is that just a second name for what is really a Martini?

    CocktailDB does not seem to have any drinks called “Martini” that use these ingredients, but check out “The Savoy Cocktail Book”, page 62, and you will find a “Dry Martini Cocktail” containing gin, French vermouth, and orange bitters. You can also find the Astoria on page 24, which is the same as the Dry Martini but with a different gin:vermouth ratio. As an aside, Cradock also specifies that a stuffed olive should be used to garnish the Astoria; no garnish is mentioned for the Dry Martini in Savoy.

    Both Robert Hess and Eric Felton also define the “classic” Martini as one containing orange bitters. See:


    … and page 36 of Felton’s “How’s Your Drink?”

    Hess also has an interesting essay on the topic, available here:


    Finally, regarding Turf, that appears to be a different drink entirely, containing absinthe and maraschino in addition to the other ingredients (according to both Savoy and CocktailDB):


  10. Adam

    … and at the risk of going overboard with references (it’s Friday afternoon and I’m bored with work, so why not?) here are two more:

    “Famous New Orleans Drinks & How to Mix ’em” by Stanley Clisby Arthur (2000 printing, but the book was written in 1937), page 49, has a Dry Martini with a 50:50 gin and vermouth ratio plus a half teaspoon of orange bitters(!)… and an olive for garnish, with an extra reminder in the text: “Don’t forget the olive!”

    Another reference found in “Imbibe” by David Wondrich: Page 247 includes a Dry Martini recipe credited to Charlie Mahoney, “Hoffman House Bartender’s Guide”, 1906, which uses the same 50:50 gin and vermouth ratio, plus a dash orange bitters and an orange peel squeezed over the top.

  11. MC Slim JB

    I’m surprised no one has raised the distinction I was taught: always stir if the drink contains bitters, which will make the drink cloudy if shaken. I now guess this refers to non-potable bitters: my Negronis never get cloudy and I always shake them. Most bartenders aren’t stirring, of course, because it takes too long. I’m always impressed when someone knows enough and is willing to take the time to stir my Manhattan (as, for instance, they always do at the B-Side Lounge in Cambridge) for this reason.

  12. Jonathan

    You freeze your gin (or vodka) in order so that the shaking of it with ice doesn’t melt the ice too much, thus watering down your drink. With a room temp gin, the ice melts too much, watering down my precious Bombay Sapphire.

    As for vermouth, I dunno. Even with the little bit I use, if it isn’t Noilly Prat I can really tell the difference. So it must add something.

    I’ve never tried orange bitters in the martini. My wife, a true purist, would never do it, but I might some night. Another ingredient to try, recommended by the bartender at Zygomates, is the elderberry flower liqueur.

    Personally, I’ve spoiled myself with my martinis and they are never cold enough nor dry enough at a bar, so I usually try something else like a sidecar.

  13. Todd


    I have the Savoy Coctail its published in 1976…(pg 62), try the Official Mixer’s manual by Duffy 1934… the Astoria pre dates Dry martini and there is a dry martini aside from the Astoria…. 4 or 5 parts gin 1 part dry vermouth ……

  14. Todd

    that’s a joke… Cocktaildb… the Savoy was publish in 30… don’t quote the internet

  15. Adam

    Might want to read up on CocktailDB before you bash it.


  16. Adam

    Todd: Here are a few more references, all available at the following site:


    “American Bar”, Frank Newman, 1904. Martini, page 66, w/ orange bitters. No Astoria cocktail listed.

    “New and Improved Bartenders’ Manual, 1934 Edition”, Harry Johnson. Martini, page 165, w/ Boker’s bitters. Again, no Astoria cocktail listed.

    “The Cocktail Key”, listed as published in the 1920s. Martini listed, again, with orange bitters.

    “Cafe Royal Cocktail Book”, 1937, compiled by Willian G Tarling. Astoria is listed in this one, as a drink with apple brandy and orange bitters. No bitters listed for the martinis. (No page numbers available)

    “Cocktails de Paris”, 1929, author not listed. No Asotoria listed. Martini listed with orange bitters. (No page numbers available)

    “Bariana”, 1902, Louis Fouquet. No Astoria listed. Martini listed with orange bitters, in addition to absinthe and Creme de Noyaux. (I think there are page numbers but I’m having a lot of trouble reading them).

    … based on these six sources, plus the other three books I’ve already quoted, I think we can safely conclude that the original Martini formulation did indeed have bitters. As for the Astoria, we can’t draw many conclusions from lack of evidence, but it seems that if it did predate the Martini it was certainly not as widespread or well-known a drink.

  17. ljclark

    Wow, fellas. My head is spinning. I need a Martini — lemon twist, olives, frozen gin, orange bitters, elderflower liqueur… whatever.

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  19. Gloria

    You want EXTRA Vermouth? Girl! you are ruining the smooth taste of the vodka!! If I do the Vermouth…….I pour just a little in the martini glass and then throw it out!
    Vodka from the freezer (only the best) poured into a martini glass which has been wet and put in the freezer for the coldness! 3 olives and I’m done.

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