Mixed Drinks 101: Shaking a Cocktail

Shaken Cocktails are a great time. You get to measure all your ingredients, put them in a fancy metal thingy and shake the hell out of them.

cocktail shaker against black background

What could be more fun right? I enjoy the whole mad scientist aspect of mixing drinks but shaking a cocktail is probably my favorite part, I might have some lingering anger issues to work out but that’s not relevant here ๐Ÿ˜‰

All you need to make a great shaken drink is ice and something to shake it in. A cocktail or martini shaker is going to make that easier and I recommend you get one but in a pinch you can use a mason jar and a twist on lid.

The mason jar method is messier but it gets the job done. It is pretty impossible to pour from a mason jar into shot glasses (you wouldn’t believe the minty mess I made on the counter when I poured the Grasshopper Shots out of a wide mouth jar!) so stick to larger glasses.

Select a Shaker

You may have guessed that I’m not a bartender, I’m not making a thousand drinks a night. Four in a night is busy for me.

I use a three piece  or cobbler shaker. It’s all metal with a large bottom cup, a shaped top part fits on snugly and a small cap. There is a built in strainer in the lid, it gets covered with the lid when you’re shaking.

When you stark shaking the metal contracts and makes a nice tight seal. Not to toot my own horn but carrying 50+ pounds of child all over the place has left me with some muscles. I’ve never had a problem cracking open the 3-piece  shaker.

If you do have some trouble warm the up seal a little with your hands and it should pop right open.

There are some other options on the market. The Boston Shaker is two cups that fit together, a smaller pint glass and larger metal cup. If you’ve ever watched a bartender shake a drink that’s probably what they’re using. There is a similar shaker with two metal cups. 

Ice, Ice Baby

After you pick out your shaker you need to figure out your ice. If you’re making lots of drinks, maybe for a party  or because you can’t get a decent picture to save your freaking life you can buy ice.

Try to avoid hollow ice cubes. You’ll lose a lot of precious alcohol in the cubes and no one wants that. Unfortunately that’s the kind you’ll get the gas station.

For home use I make my ice in a silicone cube mold and transfer it to a large Pyrex bowl once it’s frozen. The cubes I use are one inch on each side.

Aim to fill the shaker about 2/3 full, more ice will chill the liquid faster and you’ll have less dilution. It’s all math and physics that does make sense but it gets into entropy and I hated physics.

There are literally hundreds of pages on the exact dimensions and temperature of the perfect shaker ice. I don’t care about that, and I doubt it matters to you.

When you shake a drink you’re doing a few things all at once. You’re chilling the ingredients, mixing everything together, getting it frothy and diluting the ingredients a little.

The last one is the one you gotta watch out for. If you use teeny tiny ice it’s going to dilute faster and your drink will taste weaker than you’d like.

Real bartenders will say never reuse ice, but I’m not a real bartender. If I shake a drink that’s going to be served over ice I’ll just go right ahead and use the ice in the shaker. I’m a rebel.


hawthorne strainer straining a pink cocktail into a martini glass

After you’re drink if nice and chilly you’ll need to strain in into the final serving vessel. I use a cobbler shaker with a built in strainer and it works for most things.

But it has pretty big holes and it won’t stop everything. When you shake a drink you’ll get little ice slivers, those little bits will go right through the holes in a cobbler shaker.

I like to grab my handy Hawthorn Strainer if I need to keep unwanted elements out of my drink.  I bought mine on Amazon for a few bucks. It fits snuggly in the shaker cup due to the fancy metal spring and it’ll catch anything you need it to. 

Shaken or Stirred?

It’s not just the famous question asked to Mr. Bond. Shaking or stirring a cocktail will cause different outcomes.

Shaking a drink dilutes it more than stirring. That’s not a bad thing though. It’s adding a bit to the over all volume of the drink and it can do wonders to tone down a strong alcoholic bite. 

Shaking also works wonderfully at combining stubborn ingredients. If you’re making a drink with fruit juice, egg whites, cream liqueur, simple syrup and any other heavy or thick ingredients you want to give it a shake. 

It does have the downside of making drinks frothy, if that bothers you can can try to stir them. They will also be cloudy but that settles after a few minutes.

That’s the beauty of making your own drinks. You can try it both ways and see what you prefer. 

When not to Shake

Do. Not. Shake. Carbonated. Liquids. You’ll be cleaning soda off the cabinets for a good 3 hours after the whole thing explodes on you.

If you’re making something like a Dirty Shirley with vodka and soda you’ll make the drink in two steps. Shake everything but the soda, strain into your serving glass and top up with the soda (or champagne or tonic water).

Shake It Like You Hate It

Picture it, Christmas Eve, at the register checking out with the one gift left on your list, one person in line stands between you and freedom. But that person has 15 coupons that require managerial approval and needs to pay the remaining 98 cents in pennies counted by their 4 year old child

Shake your drink like it’s that person.

Sharp, fast shakes will get your drink mixed without over diluting it. I usually shake about 10-15 seconds until the outside of the metal shaker is frosty and almost uncomfortable to hold. Storied Sips breaks down how long to shake a drink for optimal coldness and the effect a long shake has on dilution if you’re into that kind of thing. 

I hope you’re feeling a bit more confident with your shaker now. Remember, lots of ice, sharp shakes, nothing carbonated!

Check out my Recipe index for all my Cocktail recipes or start here:

Cranberry and lime cocktail on the rocks in a rocks glass against a black background





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *