How and Why to Shake a Cocktail | Giovanni Ceccarelli

How and why to shake

giovanni ceccarelli cocktail engineering shake shakerata

In this article we will try to understand how and why to shake.

Shaking is no doubt the technique that mainly identifies the bartender’s work in the eyes of the general public. In recent years, many bartenders have started developing their own gestures that sometimes are elegant and discreet, sometimes less.

I began thinking about why we shake drinks a few years ago when trying to answer the questions of the students at the American Bar course.

miscelare-giovanni-ceccarelli

Understanding what’s happening and why, when using a particular mixing technique, is important in order to decide which one’s the best for achieving a desired result.

When tasting and observing a shaken cocktail, it becomes clear that this technique serves to chill, dilute the drink (because there is ice) and to disperse air inside the drink.

Some bartenders claim it also serves to mix the ingredients.
I disagree because a distillate, juice and syrup mix perfectly well even if they’re not shaken. The fact that ingredients are mixed is a consequence and not one of the reasons that leads me to choose this technique as opposed to others (stir, buil, throwing etc.).

Let’s analyze now chilling and dilution.

lucian bucur bar design


A fancy design on shaking by my friend Lucian Bucur (bartender and artist).

As I already explained in the two articles on ice (here and here) that I published, chilling and dilution go hand in hand: the greater the chilling, the more the drink is diluted.

However, we also know that time is an important factor: the more that time passes, the greater the amount of heat that is absorbed by the external environment, causing the ice to melt without contributing to the cooling of the beverage.

Therefore shaking allows us to cool the drink faster and, at the same temperature reached, have slightly lower dilution than with other techniques.

As already said, this is a theoretical analysis of what happens. It is very likely that the heat coming from the outside is negligible.

Why does this happen?

Imagine the liquid which, slammed against the ice, turns into many drops that cool faster than a large amount of water. In fact, we are increasing the ice-liquid contact surface and forcing contact between the two.

Many people think that shaking the drink gently, to avoid breaking the ice, leads to a lower dilution. Remember that cooling and dilution are related. Dilution depends on the temperature that will reach your drink. Even a overly violent shake does not lead to any sensible advantage.

Clearly, there’s no need to attempt to take off like a rocket: a vigorous, yet orderly, shake is good enough.

pisco sour giovanni ceccarelli


Foam on top of a Pisco Sour due to the egg white.

The other reason for shaking is to allow air into a drink (very often you will hear the word emulsify with reference to the air intake in a drink: it is incorrect to use this term because an emulsion affects two liquids, and not a liquid and a gas, but it helps give you an idea of what’s taking place).

Some ingredients such as pineapple, egg whites or cream, when shaken, tend to form a foam. (If you’d like more info on this topic, I recommend reading the article on foams on page 60 of BarTales – italian language). Foam gives drinks a different texture: a Pina Colada or a Sour, wouldn’t be as good without the characteristic surface foam.

Finally, I’d like to point out that this is an introductory article on the subject. Further considerations and insights are needed.

As always, if you liked it, share it!

Happy mixing,
Giovanni

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