Bartending 101: How To Shake Cocktails

Shake It Like You Mean It

Shaking is an important skill to learn for creating the best cocktails.
Shaking is an important skill to learn for creating the best cocktails. Photo by Dylan Goldby at WlkinLight Photography / Moment / Getty Images

The majority of cocktail recipes call for the ingredients to be shaken using a cocktail shaker. It is by far the most used, enjoyable, and entertaining method for preparing mixed drinks and it's unbelievably simple.

Shaking is one of the basic bartending techniques and learning how to do it will significantly improve your drinks. With a little practice and by following a few tips, you will master it in no time.

Once you get your personal shaking style down, your cocktails will emerge crisp, cool, and concentrated.

What You Need for Shaking

Cocktail shakers come in two basic styles: the standard three-piece shaker and a 2-piece Boston shaker. Either can be used to create great drinks and which you choose will be a matter of personal preference.

The three-piece shakers have a built-in strainer so it is the only tool you need when shaking drinks. If, however, you prefer to use a Boston shaker, you will need a separate strainer.

How to Shake a Cocktail

Shaking a mixed drink is very easy. It should take just a minute or two from the time you begin pouring the ingredients to the time you strain the drink. 

In most cases, you will follow these six steps to shake a cocktail:

  1. Pour the ingredients into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass (if using a Boston shaker).
  1. Fill the shaker with ice.
  2. Secure the lid or Boston shaker tin.
  3. Hold the shaker with both hands (one on each piece) and shake vigorously over your shoulder.
  4. Shake for a slow count of ten or until the outside of the shaker frosts up.
  5. Strain your cocktail into a chilled glass. Remember to strain over fresh ice when preparing drinks served on the rocks.

    Tips for Shaking Cocktails

    While the basic way to shake a cocktail is very easy, there are a few tips that you will find useful to make sure everything goes smoothly and you get consistent well-mixed drinks.

    • Fill a cocktail shaker halfway with ice first. This will chill the shaker and cool the liquids as you add them. If you're using a smaller shaker or making more than one drink at a time, use less ice to make more room for the ingredients.
    • Or, use the mixing glass pour. When using a Boston shaker, pour the ingredients into the mixing glass before adding ice. Many professional bartenders use this technique when free pouring because it gives them a visual as to how much liquid is being poured. 
    • Don't overfill the shaker. Give the ingredients plenty of room to move around. This also helps to prevent spills while shaking. If you're using a small shaker, mix one drink at a time. The average-sized shaker can handle two or three drinks at once depending on the volume.
    • Shake drinks longer and harder. For cocktails that have many ingredients or ingredients that don't mix well such as eggs or cream, shake the drinks for at least 30 seconds to ensure a proper mix. Egg cocktails are often best with a dry shake, so hold the ice and give the ingredients an initial shake. Then add ice and shake as normal.
    • Look for the frost. The majority of the time, you are done shaking when the cocktail shaker becomes frosty on the outside. This occurs most often with stainless steel shakers and may not appear on those made of other materials.
    • Shake to a rhythm. Hum a tune and shake to a beat. Many bartenders enjoy a good Caribbean drum beat or will shake to the music in the bar. Have fun with it.
    • Shake it like you mean it. Shaking a cocktail is not a gentle thing and too many young bartenders make a weak attempt at it. Give the movement some force and power and enjoy the exercise. If you do it properly and shake often, your arms should be nice and fit.
    • Have a firm grip. Hold both pieces of any cocktail shaker firmly to ensure they stay together while you are shaking. When using a three-piece shaker, place a finger on top of the lid to hold that in place as well. A cocktail on the floor is a sad thing, so keep your shaker in one piece.
    • Shake over your shoulder. Shake over one of your shoulders (whichever is natural) just in case the shaker does come apart. Your backside may get wet, but your guests will not. This also helps add force to the shake.

    Why Shaking is Necessary

    Shaking a drink is not done simply for the fun of it (though it is fun), there are very good reasons why most cocktails are shaken.

    The goal of shaking is to:

    • Thoroughly mix the drink's ingredients.
    • Give the drink a good chill.
    • Add enough dilution to knock the strength of the drink down so it is more pleasant.

    Some drinkers may argue against this last point because they want a powerful drink. If that weren't the case, many would put down the liquor and choose beer or wine instead, right? Yet, it's important to look at the alcohol content of cocktails and how many drinks you would like to enjoy on any given night. 

    When we're mixing drinks that are almost entirely made of alcohol (like the majority of martinis), they can easily be in the 20-30% ABV (40-60 proof) range. That is after shaking with ice. It is a myth that dilution weakens a cocktail to the point where it's equivalent to wine or even as mild as a mixed drink like the Rum & Coke.

    Also, is your goal to simply get drunk or to enjoy a few good drinks with friends? It is a fact that many of the most potent cocktails taste better with a little dilution. This is because water opens up the flavors and tames the alcohol to a point where it's palatable and more enjoyable.

    If you want a drink that gives you a shock, stick to shots. If you want a drink to experience, use your shaker.