Why Are Some Drinks Shaken and Others Stirred?

Mary Katherine Morris Photography
Mary Katherine Morris Photography / Mary Katherine Morris Photography

James Bond’s famous “shaken, not stirred” Vesper martini is a timeless piece of pop culture. His order also implies a subtle understanding of the scientific differences between the two techniques.

Historically, martinis and most other spirituous (all booze) cocktails are stirred. As a result, the characteristics of the drink’s base spirit are much more present in the finished product.

If you’ve ever tasted a stirred drink and its shaken equivalent side by side, you’ve probably noticed that their flavors are fundamentally different. Several factors influence these differences.

The Proof is in the Glass

According to an experiment done by Gizmodo, shaking a drink with ice for 30 seconds can halve its potency, while the strength of its stirred equivalent was only reduced by about a third. Though many bartenders opt for a shorter, hard shake, the dilution should be pretty similar to their findings.

Further, almost three times more water was found in the shaken drink than in the stirred one. To introduce that much water into a stirred drink, the bartender would have to stir for upwards of two minutes.

Unless your local bar has carafes or sidecars, the bartender will most likely pour out any liquid that doesn’t fit in your glass. For 007, the lower overall proof of the Vesper and limited room in the glass insures he will be sober enough to fight henchmen and seduce women by the time he leaves the casino floor.

Air it Out

Shaking a cocktail also introduces a lot of air. For libations containing citrus juice, egg whites or dairy, added air bubbles give the drink a smooth, frothy texture. In addition to emulsifying the ingredients, shaking also adds a lightness and body to the drink’s appearance.

Drinks such as Manhattans or Old Fashioneds don’t gain the same appeal from shaking as others do. When they’re stirred, they tend to turn out as a rich earthy red or a vibrant brown. If shaken, the resulting drink resembles frothy swamp water.

Since the aesthetics of a drink or dish deeply influence your experience of it, you’re more likely to believe that a nasty-looking cocktail will taste bad. When paired with a watered down flavor, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll have a good experience at all.

Martini recipe
2-4 oz gin per your personal preference
1 oz dry vermouth

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir for 12-15 seconds or until chilled. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with an olive or slice of lemon peel.

Vesper Recipe (per Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale)
3 oz London Dry gin (Bond’s preference: Gordon’s)
1 oz vodka (made from grain, if possible)
.5 oz Lillet blanc

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously for 20 seconds. Strain into a martini glass or a cocktail glass and garnish with a “large thin slice of lemon peel.” Don your tuxedo and enjoy.