Bruised Egos & Martinis

James Bond may know fast cars, beautiful women and big guns, but “shaken not stirred” martini’s? Clearly he doesn’t know how to order a proper drink… or does he? Interestingly enough Daniel Craig once came into my bar at PER SE with Ian Fleming’s daughter while studying for the role of James Bond. She ordered a Vodka Martini, he ordered my house made gin-with-tonic (the “best he’d ever had”). Even though I knew better, I couldn’t help myself and I asked the lady “would you care for that shaken or stirred?” She laughed and not surprisingly ordered it shaken.
For twenty years I was always told to stir my martini’s because to shake them would “bruise” the gin or spirit. For most of that time I never truly understood what that meant, I thought I did but I was wrong. Even today many bartenders understand that a proper Manhattan should always be stirred, but ask them why and the answers vary from the cryptic to the absurd. So I thought I’d take a moment to set the record straight…
If you ask most bartenders why you stir instead of shake, they will suggest that it has something to do with dilution. That is only partially true and usually not for the reason they think. The biggest myth about stirring is that you can’t get the cocktail as cold as shaking. The truth is that you can get your cocktail just as cold depending on two criteria, how long you stir and the size of the ice cubes you are using. With proper technique, a skilled barperson can get a cocktail properly chilled in close to the same time it takes to shake. But why stir at all? Why not always shake?
The real reason we stir over shaking is to maintain the viscosity or oily texture of a great spirit. When we shake a cocktail we are doing two things: First we are breaking off little chips of ice from the larger cubes which then melt faster and further dilute the drink thus changing the texture. The second reason is more important. When we shake a cocktail, you’re forcing little micro bubbles throughout the liquid. By aerating the liquid you are changing the mouth-feel or oily quality of the spirit. The oils that are found in better quality distillates actually coat the back of the tongue and greatly enhance the finish of a well made cocktail.
Most bartenders don’t understand this fundamental principle. Combine their lack of knowledge with the myth that shaking is faster and the positive feedback they receive from uninformed consumers and you have a nation of bartenders shaking when they should be stirring. This naturally begs the question… Why don’t we always stir? The answer is simple; the viscosity principle only works when combining a base spirit with a modifying spirit (as in a classic Martini or Manhattan). Once you start adding mixers (non-alcoholic components) the oily texture is sufficiently compromised and stirring doesn’t make a significant difference. However, if you do shake a cocktail, it is important to double strain the smaller ice chips out of the drink to prevent further dilution. If the guest requests that you leave the ice chips… leave them. After all, it’s a major faux pas in the customer service industry to lecture a guest unless they WANT to be educated.
Think of it this way, I like my steak cooked medium, I know that I should order it medium-rare and that many chefs will complain that I am are ruining a good piece of meat by overcooking it. Still, I just don’t care for blood in my meat. And telling me that I have poor taste is just bad form, especially from a restaurant that aspires to great customer service standards.
So when a guest asks for a martini, now you know the default. You should never have to ask which way the guest wants a martini prepared unless they specify one way or the other. Now that you are armed with the knowledge of how and when to shake vs. stir, what do you do when James Bond walks into your bar and asks for his Vesper Martini shaken not stirred? You give it to him exactly as he requested, without judgment. After all, he knows fast cars, beautiful women and big guns… that and he has a license to kill!

One Reply

  • great post. It is always good to know every nooks and curves of bartending but try to understand patrons who only loves to drink not caring how the bartender did it. that’s what occupies my mind before i decided to put up my own online bartending school. to produced well-trained and skilled new generation bartenders.

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