Mix Methods

Mixing Cocktails 101 – The Methods – Overview

Shaken or Stirred?

When we mix cocktails we are usually trying to do two things – take different ingredients and combine them to make new tastes and flavours; and use ice to cool the ingredients and the final drink.

Some ingredients will mix together easily while others are more of an ‘oil and water’ situation where simply pouring them in the same glass will not be enough; depending on how much mixing is required we use the mixing method that will give us the best result, anywhere from simply pouring all the ingredients into the glass (building method, used with easily mixed ingredients) through to a long hard shake (shake and strain method) which uses your energy and the ice to smash and mix harder ingredients together.

The four main mixing methods we use are :

Each of these methods can be used to make cocktails and which one you decide to use will depend on how much mixing and cooling is required – building is the most gentle method and they become progressively more intense as we work our way down to blending.

There are a few more mix methods that we use for slightly more specific functions:

  • Layering
  • Dry Shaking
  • Rolling

Don’t worry about these for now as they are used for slightly different reasons (we’ll cover them later).

So when do we stir? When do we shake?

In general, the more simple the ingredients in a cocktail the less mixing it will need. For example – a Martini is made of only two clear ingredients, gin and dry vermouth [I realise that some old recipes call for orange bitters and such but I’m keeping this simple for now]. Gin is the base spirit and contains around 40% abv, vermouth is also alcoholic so simply stirring the two ingredients in an ice filled mixing glass will allow them to mix nicely and chill down.

When we start adding juices, syrups, liqueurs and such then we need to get a little more aggressive and this is when we’ll want to shake the drink.

Example – In a Classic Daiquiri we are mixing rum, fresh lime juice and sugar together – we could stir these ingredients but it would take a long time for them to mix and cool to a satisfactory level. Instead we can add them into a shaker, fill the shaker with ice and shake hard – the ice will help to agitate the ingredients inside the shaker, helping them to mix together while also cooling them down. For a frozen daiquiri we would need to be even more aggressive, so instead of shaking we would move to blending.

Clear ingredients – easier to mix – build or stir

Juices, syrups, liqueurs, milk and similar ingredients – harder to mix – shake or blend

Of course a lot of this really comes down to personal preference – I’ve certainly served my fair share of shaken Vodka Martinis during my time on the bar so feel free to experiment and see what you like most.

So it’s all about mixing and cooling, right?

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that. There are more elements making up the taste of a cocktail than just the initial raw ingredients; the final product is also going to be a result of the cocktails dilution, texture and appearance, all of which can also be manipulated through the mixing method chosen.


Dilution is the amount of water that is in your cocktail as a result of ice melting. Many people seem to think that water is the enemy of cocktails but it is actually an important ingredient in itself as it can help soften the flavour of the alcohol and allow background flavours to be more apparent.  Think of the Mojito; if you didn’t have the crushed ice melting and diluting the cocktail the rum flavour would be much stronger and it would be harder to appreciate the mint, sugar and lime flavours that make the cocktail special.

How much dilution you get is directly related to how much ice melts (which is also directly related to how cold the cocktail becomes as you cannot chill the cocktail with melting). The speed at which ice melts is related to the surface area of the ice [check out ‘Cocktail Science – Does crushed ice dilute more? a great blog with a full ‘sciency’ explanation of all this] so the smaller the ice cube = the faster it melts = the more it will dilute your cocktail.

Crushed ice will dilute more than large ice cubes so keep this in mind when you are making your cocktails – this is why we use large ice cubes when we stir or shake. More ice = a colder drink = slower melting, which is why we always try to fill our glasses with ice when we are making drinks; we are trying to minimise unnecessary dilution.

Also, when we shake hard the ice in the shaker will chip into small pieces that will dilute the cocktail more – if you straining into a cocktail glass after a hard shake then you can use a tea strainer (fine strainer) to catch these little ice shards and at the same time make the cocktail look a little nicer.


If you shake clear ingredients then you often end up with a cloudy looking drink so you can also keep this in mind when deciding which mix method to use. A stirred Martini will look clear and refreshing when placed next to its cloudy, shaken counterpart.

Cloudy ingredients usually need more aggressive mixing and this can actually improve the appearance of the cocktail with some ingredients – things like pineapple juice, coffee, eggs or crème can create foams and layers when shaken that can really add to the overall appearance of the drink.

Texture/Mouth Feel

Finally, the mixing method you select can also play a part in the texture or mouth feel – how the drink actually feels in your mouth; light, heavy, creamy, oily etc.

Just like whisking an egg, heavier ingredients, juices, crèmes and similar will often fluff up and become soft and foamy in texture when they have been shaken. In fact many cocktails will actually use egg whites shaken hard for exactly this reason [we’ll cover this more in depth in a later post].

Example – A French Martini (Chambord liqueur, vodka and pineapple juice) that is stirred will feel a bit dull and watery, but if it is shaken hard then the pineapple juice will expand and foam giving the cocktail a much more appealing texture when you taste it.

Next up

That’s a general overview of why we use different mixing methods, now it’s time to learn about the actual mechanics behind each of the methods (how to stir, how do you actually use a shaker to shake etc). We’ll start with a look at how we build cocktails.

Any questions then feel free to either leave a comment below or contact me,

// David

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