The Art of Cocktail Shaking

Anyone who chooses bartending as their profession should consider mastering the art of cocktail making. Cocktail bartenders are well-respected, admired and often considered to be fun individuals. But most importantly, one of the benefits of becoming a cocktail bartender is receiving huge tips and earning more money.

The preparation of cocktails is somewhat an art with its own terminology and methodology. Personally, I believe that cocktail making is one of the most fulfilling aspects of bartending. Cocktail bartenders are true artists that are able to entertain their customers while preparing tasteful and exotic drinks.

One of the most famous and recognizable methods is cocktail shaking. For many years, popular culture has depicted this bartender method as a sophisticated and alluring activity. Its appeal seems to be acknowledged worldwide, due to the famous James Bond phrase "shaken, not stirred" which has reached millions of people throughout decades.

Shaking a drink is done for the purpose of chilling and diluting the drink. The dilution is just as important as using the right proportions of ingredients. Using too little ice will result in an over-diluted cocktail, as your ice will quickly melt in the shaker.

Shaking is mostly done with cubed ice. Always fill your shaker two-thirds full of fresh ice, add all the required ingredients and shake briskly. Strain the liquid into a drinking glass, leaving the cubed ice behind in the shaker.

While cocktail shaking is a fun activity, you should take great care of how you hold your shaker. Losing your grip while shaking a cocktail will not only make a huge mess, but could also cause injury to those close by. Not to mention that it would be quite embarrassing. Remember to always hold your shaker with two hands, despite what you may have seen in movies or cocktail bars. Also, you should never shake fizzy ingredients.

Cocktail shakers: standard and Boston

There are two cocktail shakers: the standard cocktail shaker and the Boston shaker. The first consists of three parts: a flat-bottomed, conical base or 'can', a top with a built-in strainer and a cap. A Boston shaker comprises of two cones, one made of glass and the other made of stainless steel. While a standard shaker has its own built-in strainer, a Hawthorne strainer is used in conjunction with a Boston shaker. This perforated metal top, held in place by a wire coil is used on the metal half of the Boston shaker.

How to use a standard shaker

Here are the proper steps to use the standard shaker:

  1. Fill the base of the shaker two-thirds full of fresh cubed ice. Add all ingredients.
  2. Place the top on the base and close the cap firmly.
  3. Start shaking with two hands, holding one hand on the top and the other on the bottom of the shaker. The top should always stay on top while shaking and point away from guests.
  4. Shake for a count of around 20 seconds. Lift off the cap, hold the top with one finger and pour the drink into a chilled glass through the built-in strainer.

How to use a Boston shaker

Here's a step by step guide on how to use the Boston shaker:

  1. Combine the ingredients in the glass part of the shaker, also called a 'Boston glass'. Before adding ingredients, make sure to fill your shaker two-thirds full of fresh cubed ice.
  2. Place the metal half of the shaker over the top of the glass half. Tap the top lightly with the heel of your hand. This will create a seal.
  3. Start shaking with one hand on top and one on the bottom. Make sure that the glass part is always on top while shaking and is pointing away from your guests.
  4. Keep shaking for a count of approximately 20 seconds. Hold the metal part of the shaker in your hand and tap the side where you estimate the glass rim sits. This will break the seal between the glass half and the metal half, allowing you to open the shaker. If the shaker can't be opened, don't panic. Turn the shaker one quarter turn and repeat the tapping process.
  5. Place a Hawthorne strainer over the top of the metal container and strain the liquid into a chilled glass.

These basic steps will ensure you are introduced with the art of shaking cocktails. However, remember that cocktail shaking is done with a certain amount of showmanship, as it is a drink preparing process that should entertain your guests while waiting. Expect the customer to watch closely while you shake a cocktail, so make sure you practice a lot before you actually start shaking cocktails for money.

In addition, remember that a proper course will teach you the ground basics of cocktail preparing. If you're serious about your bartending profession, invest in a good training course. You will learn all there is to know about cocktail preparation, which includes not only shaking but also layering, building, muddling and stirring drinks.

Downfalls: what not to do

One of the most common mistakes made by beginning bartenders and cocktail shaking enthusiasts has to do with re-usage of ice. You should never use the same ice if you're shaking more than one cocktail, even if you're shaking the exact same drink. You should always throw away ice after straining the drink and use fresh ice to fill the glass.

Garnishing your cocktails

After you have strained the liquid into a chilled glass, it's time to garnish your cocktail. Garnishes are used to decorate the cocktail and are usually attached to the rim of the glass. The proper garnish will enhance the overall look of your cocktail and the aroma and flavor as well. Garnishes should be edible, so please forget about the cliche paper parasols.

Cocktail shaking isn't as hard as people tend to think. It's a fun activity and it's easy to learn.

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