Cocktail shaking is really about aeration. Most people think it’s about making the drink cold or about diluting it to soften the punch of the alcohol—and it is. You want both of those things, but mostly, you want to whip the drink so it’s full of air.
Aeration is what gives cocktails their distinctive mouthfeel so you when you take a sip, the drink feels soft and smooth on the palate. It seems like a subtle detail, but it’s a difference that can make a cocktail just fine or really great. When you pop the shaker open, it should hiss. When you pour it into your glass, it should have that fine film of foam riding on top.
There are lots of ways to shake cocktails. We prefer the Japanese hard shake technique. Here are some other tips to up your shaker game.
Shake in a figure-8, rather than just back and forth (or up and down). This is the biggest thing. When you shake back and forth, the ice is hitting the shaker hard. This means the cubes break down, dilute the drink, and are less effective at whipping everything together. If you shake in the figure-8, you’re both shaking and whipping at the same time.
Use cold, dense ice in your shakers. Larger cubes are also better because there is less overall surface area. This means far less breakage and dilution and more overall aeration.
Don’t shake every cocktail. For cocktails made with spirits and liqueur modifiers-only—like a Manhattan, Negroni, or Martini—it’s best to stir, rather than shake. Stirring also accomplishes the diluting and chilling of the drink, and excessive aeration in these drinks can actually take away from the experience of drinking them. For brown spirits that are barrel-aged, shaking can sometimes cause the oils that come from the barrels they were aged in to separate into the drink, giving it an unpleasant mouthfeel.
There are lots of cocktail shakers—but you might as well use the best. Our favorite shaker is the Usagi Cobbler Shaker. Its size and shape are designed especially for aeration. The shaker small and has round shoulders, which make it especially great for whipping ice while minimizing breakage. It’s more expensive than other cobbler shakers—which all come with the top and the strainer—but the results are really worth the extra expense.
Usagi Cobbler Shaker
This shaker is designed for aeration. It has small and round shoulders, making everything really easy to whip around in there. It has a cobbler shaker lid with a built in strainer and a small metal cap.
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