How Long Should You Shake a Cocktail?

Cocktail ShakerA reader wrote to me last week with a question about how long to shake his cocktails. Here’s the scoop, based on lab analyses:

Greg in Rome wrote:

“My wife and I make, serve and enjoy classic cocktails (we never chill the ingredients other than vermouth) and we shake for 6 to 7 seconds. So, seeing your mixing time of 15 seconds; well, we can’t believe it. After various experiments to discover your approach, we find that long on shaking dilutes too much. Any insight onto the 15 second thing?”

I find, in general, that people don’t shake their cocktails long or hard enough to get 1) the correct texture and 2) a seriously cold drink. Thus, my 15 seconds benchmark. Basically, I shake until the shaker is painfully cold to hold.

There is some science behind this recommendation, which is detailed here in laboratory data, conducted by renowned barmen Eben Klemm, Dave Arnold, and Alex Day. In particular, I base my recommendations on data from the graph: “The effects of ice type on dilution, ABV, and temperature versus time in seconds.” As they note in the findings, “What’s really amazing is that after about 10-12 seconds you get less than 2 degrees extra cooling and between 20 and 40 seconds of constant shaking you only lose 1-1.5% ABV. We thought those results were pretty amazing. Between 20 and 40 seconds, we had only melted 20 grams more of ice.”

Now, I like a really cold drink, so I opt for the few seconds beyond 10-12 that yield my extra 2 degree C drop in temperature. What’s nice to note is that even longer shaking (20-40 seconds!) yields only a very small reduction in alcohol by volume.

Of course, there are a few dependencies to consider:

  1. Size of shaker: a larger, 28 oz. size is preferable to prevent dilution and move the ingredients around effectively.
  2. Shaker should be filled 3/4 full with ice.
  3. If there’s an egg in the drink, I shake even longer than 15 seconds. With an egg white, you’re looking for a fine, velvety foam. For an egg yolk, you’ll want to make sure the yolk fully emulsifies so it’s not streaky in the glass. The drink should be smooth and silky.

Remember that most pros only use shakers for cocktails only that have opaque ingredients like juices, milk, eggs, and creamy liqueurs. You’ll note in Storied Sips that I cheat a bit by shaking my Negronis. I love a shaken Negroni; there’s no way around it. So some of the advice is personal taste. Choose what you like best. Even at 6-7 seconds shaking, you can get a pretty cold drink, and a nice texture for most cocktails. Really, I’ve found that what you like best is always the best recipe!

Finally, here’s a pro tip that I recently picked up that may assist in further reducing any dilution issues: Build the cocktail in the shaker or mixing glass BEFORE adding any ice. Then, add the ice at the last-minute, and shake the heck out of it.

Photo Credit: Shake It by Ryan Hyde, Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Carlos Pascal

    Just stumbled across your blog. What a happy discovery! Love the layout and the content. I will be reading through all of it as soon as possible. Thank you for sharing your writings with the world.

    Concerning ice and the hysteria surrounding dilution, I find that it is mostly over blown- except for the following thoughts.

    Dilution will occur when not enough ice is used in the shaker. Your suggestion of 3/4 shaker full of ice is a good one. Many people fail to use enough ice, resulting in all of the ice melting completely into the drink, leaving a luke warm watery mess. Use enough ice (or more than you think you need if you are not sure) and the drink will chill quickly with minimal dilution.

    Speaking of dilution, what little that does occur in a properly prepared cocktail I consider part of the recipe, and nothing to spend energy avoiding. A little water will wake up the more subtle properties in most liquors. Having said that, I believe most quality hard liquors before prohibition were in the 100 to 110 proof range, so our standard 80 proof stuff may want a little less dilution than grampa’s cocktail.

    On the topic of ice. Chipped or coarsely crushed ice work best for chilling a cocktail. Whole cubes will fail to chill a drink quickly and evenly, and may even dent your prized vintage shaker. Finely shaved ice should be reserved for daiquiris and mists. Let the three bears be a caution to us all and use ice that is “just right”.