“The important thing is the rhythm,” says Nick Charles in The Thin Man, as he demonstrates how to make a proper cocktail. “Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a Dry Martini you always shake to waltz time.”
While I don’t agree with Nick’s advice about Manhattans and Dry Martinis (they should be stirred), does how you shake really matter?
For Bobby Heugel (pictured right), co-owner of the acclaimed Anvil Bar & Refuge in Houston, Texas, it certainly does. The duration of his shaking depends on the type of drink he’s fixing. But, “I always shake as hard as I can,” he says. “It’s the only way you can be sure you’re being consistent.”
Noted cocktailian and Liquor.com advisor Dale DeGroff cautions that you must continually make adjustments based on your ingredients. “The Ramos Gin Fizz and all egg drinks need an extra-hard and long shake to totally emulsify the egg white,” he says. On the other hand, “Bloody Marys are rolled — not shaken — to avoid breaking down the weight of the tomato juice and rendering it too frothy and weightless on the tongue.”
But a good shaking rhythm is not just generated by your wrists and elbows. “Be your own metronome and let your shaker and body transform into a musical instrument,” says bar philosopher and consultant Stan Vadrna. “What is really important to understand is your own natural rhythm.”
And never forget that shaking is part of the show.
“For the first five years [at New York’s Rainbow Room], I had a talented guitar player at the corner of the bar nightly,” says DeGroff. “As soon as he would strike up the first few chords of ‘Brazil’ I would shake in tempo. The filled cocktail shaker made an admirable substitute for the marimba.”
A well-shaken cocktail, it turns out, not only tastes great but also provides the soundtrack for a perfect evening.
—Wayne Curtis, Liquor.com
Wayne Curtis writes about drinks for The Atlantic and is the author of And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. He is also host of the site Slowcocktails.com.