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Fight or flight

Every decade or two, something fairly major seems to happen to U. S. drinking culture, from ice transportation to prohibition, from water carbonation to suburbanization. If you were legal to drink in the United States before 2000, you’re some of the lucky bunch who were able to witness one of the most recent and largest shake-ups to alcohol and the manner in which we approach it. Try to find a craft beer or craft spirit in the United States prior to 2000. Try to find a bar that cleaned its ice machine. Try to find a bar that squeezed fresh citrus juice daily. Back then, vodka was king, high fructose corn syrup was queen, and those snake-like plastic guns were where drinks came from.

Change is a constant, but it was, is, and still will be a little slow. This doesn’t mean that the dive bar has to go away—quite the contrary.  Everything neatly in its place makes for an ideal situation. Everyone is more than welcome to drink whatever it is that they’d like to drink all the time, but availability of a higher quality of products has come upon us. My goal is not to convince anyone that my cocktails are better than your vodka and soda but, rather, to highlight a couple of new methods that we see bartenders using for nearly every drink they make and explain why they’re used. 

Shaking a cocktail shaker vigorously and/or gently stirring liquid in a mixing glass for a prolonged period of time can look pretty silly if you don’t know what’s going on in there. I know because I myself have ridiculed it. I was working at a dive bar when some of my friends began to get into cocktails. Having worked so long in a certain way, I did not welcome the change. Not one bit. If someone had told me I’d be prepping drinks in a kitchen and showing up to work before 7 p.m., I’d have thought he was crazy. Yet here we are, and that’s what I’m doing. There’s a reason for all of it, and, in hindsight, I can’t believe my apprehension. The world is so much brighter, so much more vibrant than it was before.

So, down to business: what in the world is with the shaking and stirring? The cocktail shaker is implemented when one needs fluids of drastically different densities and compositions to form an emulsion. Rum is a clear, light liquid, while lime juice is cloudy and acidic, and simple syrup is clear and viscous. What does all this mean? The above ingredients make a Daiquiri, but not without a little bit of help. Lime juice contains particulate matter, and this stuff needs a bit of jostling to spread itself evenly throughout a cocktail. The booze and the sugar syrup would be able to form enough of an emulsion on their own, but the squirrely citrus juice just won’t play nice without a shake. 

Another benefit of this jostle is aeration. Beating the daiquiri pieces into thinking they’re unified also exposes all the ingredients to air—and aggressively so. When this drink is poured it will now be light and refreshing, even though its ingredients can be quite off-putting on their own. Shaking a citrus or egg cocktail is like sewing a sole onto your shoe. If you don’t put it all together, you’ve got a bunch of pieces, but you certainly don’t have yourself a shoe. 

This is much less the case with stirring. Basically, we stir cocktails when we’re not mandated to shake them. I guess you could call stirring the default preparation method because of this. If every liquid going into a drink is clear of debris or bits, it’s safe to say that it doesn’t need to be shaken. No, quite the opposite, it may be hurt by a shake. To find out why, we have to go back to why we’d shake or stir anything ever anyway. There are two main reasons that overlap both methods: chilling and dilution. Shaking and stirring drinks over ice will chill them well below the temperature of the ice, but as we’re painfully aware—just plain cold booze (or sugar or lemon/lime) is still really ouch-y. It needs water in most cases to soften the blow and bring out some background flavors. Luckily, when using ice to chill a liquid, the ice turns to water and does its job. Bonus!

In the case of the Daiquiri, the ingredients are each pretty tough on their own, so shaking vigorously and diluting to a full extra forty percent volume is reasonable. Looking at drinks like the Manhattan or the negroni, only the spirit is harsh. Good vermouth is beautiful on its own, and whatever else is in these stirred drinks is usually pretty palatable.  If we shake a Manhattan, we overdo it. The drink gets too cold, too aerated, and too watery too quickly and goes right past its sweet spot.

To sum it all up, if a drink is made of cloudy ingredients or eggs, agitation is necessary. We’re not just doing it to make noise or draw attention to ourselves, although we most certainly do achieve both of those goals, for better or for worse.  When we can, though, we like to keep as much of the flavor and aroma intact in your Manhattan or Martini by stirring it—just to soften the drink, not to kill it. 

Our goal is to achieve a perfect balance of flavors and aromas, and each drink requires different care for this end. We promise it’s all for good reason, and we solemnly swear not to kill drinks. 

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