When to Shake and When to Stir – Tips for Beginner Bartenders

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While it might seem simple, being a bartender means more than mixing flavors and pouring glasses; it can be considered a true art that not anyone can master. On the same note, owning the best cocktail shaker doesn’t make you a good bartender; it takes time, practice, and skills to get to that level where you can be called a professional. It’s important that you know how to combine tastes and that you constantly improve your knowledge of mixing techniques and styles. For all those aspiring bartenders out there, we have come up with a guide to achieving the top level of mixology so that they can truly learn how to be an artist behind the bar.

Essential bartending tools

Not only expert bartenders should stack their bar with a set of important tools, as beginners need to master the handling of basic items as well. Plus, the right shaker or jigger can contribute to the success of each recipe, because they take out the guessing in mixing flavors. Here is a list of the most important elements that each mixologist should own.

  1. Shaker: Even if you can’t manage to flip it like a pro, you will need the shaker to ensure all the flavors are mixed and the beverage is properly diluted. There are two main types, the Boston and the Cobbler. The first includes a stainless steel base and a glass that goes on top to create a sealed container for the drinks. It’s trickier to use because you have to pay attention to how you position the glass so the liquid won’t spill. The second one includes a top that covers the base, being easier to use, and more appropriate for beginners. It usually contains a strainer cap so it can be an all-in-one bartending tool.
  2. Jigger: Given that proportions are essential and you will have to stick to the recipe until you manage to create your own range of combinations, the jigger is mandatory in measuring the correct amounts.
  3. Stirrer: While you might think that a regular spoon will do the trick, don’t get fooled by the apparently simple purpose of this tool. The elongated shape and the small stirring head allow for a better stirring of the cocktail and reduce cloudiness.
  4. Muddler: If you want to add a pinch of flavor, you will definitely need a muddler to crush seeds, herbs, and spices for the drink. The muddler, usually made of stainless steel, manages to extract the flavor from added ingredients right inside the shaker.
  5. Hawthorne Strainer: After you have added crushed seeds or leaves, you will want to leave them behind while pouring into the glass, so you will need a strainer. The Hawthorne type is the most comfortable to use by all-level mixologists.
  6. Ice tongs: If your drink requires an ice cube, you wouldn’t want to add it using your hand, would you? The tongs will complete your professional appearance and will keep your hands clean.
  7. Juicer: This item is not mandatory, but it won’t hurt having it around when you want to add fresh citrus juice to your cocktail. It will most likely enhance the flavor on a higher note than the store-bought juice.
  8. Mixing Glass: Although the base of the shaker could do the job, you can upgrade your game with a classy Yarai mixing glass that is very easy to maneuver and has a helpful pouring spout that eliminates the risk of spills. This item only works for cocktails that must be stirred and not shaken.

When to shake

  • Usually, a beverage requires shaking only if it contains eggs, cream, dairy, or juices that must be incorporated into the mixture. A well-shaken drink has a frothy edge if it contains dairy products, while the juice-based one needs to have a thin layer of ice shards.
  • A Boston shaker will add a little air to the shaking, but it might be harder to maneuver if you are a novice. Hence, the Cobbler will work just fine. Next, hold the shaker firmly and move it thoroughly up and down, as hard as you can. It’s not about how fast you shake it, but how hard you mix the liquids inside. A good shake will aerate and dilute the drink to perfection.

When to stir

  • The beverages made entirely of spirits require stirring, as there aren’t many textures to blend. Soda, tonic, bitters, gin, vermouth, or wine are ingredients that need to be stirred with the help of a stirrer. The only exception is with creamy liquors like whiskey cream or Bailey’s that must the shaken.
  • Unlike shaking, stirring must be done gently, so that the ingredients will be delicately mixed together, in round moves that will blend the flavors and not dilute them.

Bartending mistakes to avoid

Whether you shake or stir a drink, you need to pay attention to some details and avoid making mistakes that will eventually affect the quality of the beverage. When you first learn, rookie errors could affect your further route in the industry, so it’s best to keep your eyes wide open and try not to make the following common mistakes.

Measure poorly

  • The recipe has exact quantities for a reason, so don’t try to play it smart and skip measuring. Use the jigger while you have it.

Use the wrong glass

  • Each mixed beverage should go into its designated glass. You have at your disposal a glass for each drink: martini glass, champagne flutes, champagne saucer, margarita, highball, hurricane, sling, julep cup, toddy glass, you name it.

Serve poor-quality ice

  • The ice doesn’t only chill the drink; it also improves its taste and aspect. Cloudy ice cubes won’t do you any good, so make sure you drop clear cubes made of fresh and clean water.

Shake the ice as well

  • Another ice-related mistake is adding it to the shaker along with the other ingredients. The ice cubes must be dropped fresh in the glass, right before pouring the drink.

Use store-bought juice

  • Instead of using carton-box juices, squeeze a fresh orange or lime. It will surely boost the flavor of your cocktail. You can do the same with pineapple, grapefruit, or pomegranate.


Should I shake or should I stir? This is a question any aspiring bartender should ask before choosing a mixing technique. While it might seem unimportant, it is greatly connected to the final aspect and texture of the drink. The difference between the two is in the force required and the movement of the hand. Once you learn the importance of each tool and the correct mixing method, you will manage to obtain the most delicious and satisfying combinations for the taste buds of your clients.