Shake or Stir: Should You Stir or Shake a Cocktail?

When should you stir or shake?

Stir carbonated or spirit-forward drinks that contain only liquors and clear ingredients, shake everything else as the vigorous shaking movement chills and dilutes a drink faster and also changes its texture by aeration and binding components of different densities that would separate with stirring.

Here is the ultimate guide to cocktail shaking methods.

Is stirring or shaking better?

  • Shaking is better for complex drinks to combine alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients with varying textures and densities into a homogeneous blend.
  • Stirring is better for drinks with carbonated and mostly alcoholic ingredients to minimize aeration and dilution, preserving their texture and clarity.

5 Differences: Shake vs. Stir

There are 5 differences between stirring and shaking cocktails:

  1. Chilling: Shaking cools down drinks faster than stirring.
  2. Dilution: Shaking dilutes drinks faster than stirring.
  3. Aeration: Shaking incorporates air into a drink. Stirring minimizes aeration.
  4. Texture: Shaking blends together ingredients of different textures and densities that would separate after stirring. Stirring maintains texture and viscosity.
  5. Appearance: Shaking produces cloudy drinks, while stirred are crystal clear.

1. Chilling: Stir or Shake?

The vigorous movement of shaking breaks up the ice in a shaker and the tiny ice shards reduce the temperature of a drink faster than what is possible by stirring in a mixing glass.

Stirring is a gentle movement that does not break the ice and prevents overcooling by making it possible to control the slow cooling process to ensure that the drink is chilled but does not become too cold.

2. Dilution: Stir or Shake?

Shaking dilutes a drink more efficiently than stirring because the more dynamic nature of the shake breaks down ice and adds cold water into a drink faster as the liquid crosses the surface area of the ice more frequently.

Dilution is a good thing because it creates a well-balanced cocktail in which alcohol is combined with acidic, sweet, oily and other ingredients (e.g., fruit juice, syrups, dairy and egg) to become a coherent mixture.

However, there can be too much of a good thing. Over-shaking and watering down a cocktail will throw off its balance, lessening the ABV, body and flavor.

Stirring is a more delicate approach that protects against excessive dilution by allowing for more precise control of dilution from the ice.

This makes stirring the preferable method for many spirit-forward cocktails in which you want to preserve the character of the liquor during mixing, with the original flavor, velvety mouthfeel and the right amount of bite. Less water means a denser body, fuller taste and smoother texture.

3. Aeration: Stir or Shake?

Shaking incorporates air into a drink, resulting in a light, effervescent, frothy drink with a foamy top. This is particularly effective for ingredients like dairy and eggs that produce an emulsion, a long-lasting luscious thick foam.

Stirring minimizes aeration, which is desirable for cocktails where alcohol is the main ingredient. Some connoisseurs even go as far as saying that shaking “bruises” a spirit by hurting its flavor.

4. Texture: Stir or Shake?

Shaking fully integrates ingredients with different textures and densities that are prone to separating–such as fruit juice, dairy, eggs and syrups–into a uniform blend so each sip tastes the same.

Stirring would not bind these ingredients together properly and make for an inconsistent cocktail. One sip could be fruit, another egg white and then nothing but liquor.

Spirits are similar in density, so shaking is not necessary to properly combine spirit-strong cocktails. In fact, stirring is preferable because it does not alter the viscosity and texture of the liquor in any significant way.

5. Appearance: Stir or Shake?

Stirring produces crystal clear cocktails because it only mixes, chills and dilutes the liquor and other transparent ingredients without changing their texture. This is aesthetically desirable for spirit-forward drinks.

Shaking changes the texture of a drink, giving it a cloudy appearance because of the ice shards, air bubbles and opaque ingredients like juices, dairy and eggs.

What drinks need to be shaken?

Drinks that require shaking are complex mixes of alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients with different textures, densities and strong flavors that need to be integrated into a homogeneous liquid, such as Daiquiri containing fruit juice, Whiskey Sour made with egg white, or White Russian with dairy.

There are 3 ingredients that need to be shaken in order to be properly blended into a cocktail:

  1. Dairy, including cream and creamy liqueurs
  2. Egg and egg alternatives like aquafaba
  3. Fruit juice, such as citrus juice

What drinks need to be stirred?

Drinks need to be stirred if they are spirit-forward, carbonated or built directly in a serving glass, such as a Manhattan, Moscow Mule or Screwdriver, respectively.

There are 3 types of drinks that need to be stirred:

  1. Spirit-forward drinks made mostly or entirely of liquor, like a Manhattan
  2. Carbonated drinks, like a Moscow Mule
  3. Built drinks mixed directly in a drinking glass, like a Screwdriver

1. Stir Spirit-forward drinks

Spirit-forward drinks that contain only, or mostly, clear liquor ingredients of similar texture and density–like an Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni or Martini–should be stirred to preserve their character, mouthfeel and bite, as shaking would excessively aerate, cool and water down the spirits.

Stirred spirit-forward drinks are built with clear distilled spirits, liqueurs, fortified wines, bitters and light mixers.

  • Base liquors (gin, vodka, whiskey, tequila, rum, brandy)
  • Non-dairy liqueurs (Campari, Cognac)
  • Fortified wines (vermouth, sherry)
  • Light transparent mixers (soda)
  • Bitters
  • Sugar

2. Stir Carbonated drinks

Carbonated beverages–such as soda, tonic, cola, ginger beer, and sparkling wine–should always be stirred because shaking causes the effervescent elements to foam up uncontrollably and the excess agitation also breaks up the carbonation so the drink goes flat too fast.

In other words, there would be an explosion of fizz and then you would have no bubbles left.

To preserve the fizz, add the carbonated ingredients into the drinking glass at the very end of the cocktail building process, either gently stirred into the drink, or as a float without stirring.

For shaken cocktails, like a Moscow Mule, first shake the non-carbonated ingredients before topping up the drink with the bubbly liquid. In this case, remember to shake a little bit less to avoid excessive dilution with the carbonated ingredient later.

3. Stir Built drinks

All mixed drinks that are built directly in their serving glass are naturally stirred rather than shaken, such as a Screwdriver, Gin & Tonic, Jack & Coke, Moscow Mule, Mimosa and other champagne and sparkling wine cocktails.

Of course, these three categories of stirred cocktails are intertwined. For example, a Manhattan is a spirit-forward drink built directly in its serving glass; and a Moscow Mule is a fizzy cocktail built directly in its serving glass.

Examples of Stirring/Shaking Classic Cocktails

Now that you know the “rules” of stirring and shaking, go test yourself! >>>

Do you shake or stir a Martini?

Martini is stirred because it is a spirit-forward drink built entirely from clear liquor of equal density, which would not benefit from shaking that could negatively affect the texture and mouthfeel of the spirits by excessive dilution and aeration.

Do you shake or stir a Whiskey Sour?

Whiskey Sour is shaken because it contains ingredients of different textures and densities that are prone to separating and therefore need to be fully blended into the cocktail. The shaking process also aerates the egg whites and creates a drink with a foamy texture and frothy top.

Do you shake or stir a Margarita?

Margarita is shaken because the shaking process aerates the fruit juice and binds it to the rest of the ingredients to give the cocktail a silky smooth and frothy texture.

Do you shake or stir a Manhattan?

Manhattan is stirred because it is a spirit-forward drink built mostly from clear liquor of equal density, which would not benefit from shaking that could negatively affect the texture and mouthfeel of the spirits by excessive dilution and aeration.

Do you shake or stir a Screwdriver?

Screwdriver is stirred because it is a simple mixed drink containing only two ingredients, vodka and orange juice, that is built directly in the drinking glass it is served with.

Do you shake or stir a Moscow Mule?

Moscow Mule is stirred because it is a mixed drink built directly in a serving glass that contains a carbonated ingredient.

Do you shake or stir an Old Fashioned?

The Old Fashioned cocktail is stirred because it is a spirit-forward drink built directly in a serving glass, mostly from clear liquors of equal density that would not benefit from shaking, which would negatively affect the texture and mouthfeel of the spirits by excessive dilution and aeration.


Since there are really not strict “rules” in bartending, these are only guidance principles. And in any case, rules are meant to be broken!

Experiment with both shaking and stirring to find out which method makes the best cocktail for your taste, style and patrons. It’s all a matter of personal preference.

Share the love
© 2023 Cocktailogy