When Exactly Do You Stir vs. Shake a Drink?

We know how James Bond takes it (shaken, not stirred), but not all cocktails are alike. Here's how to look as smooth as an international spy when mixing adult beverages.


It’s easy to look cool sipping a martini or a Moscow Mule with your pals, but knowing how to prepare the drinks properly separates the amateurs from the aficionados. It’s not enough to nail the ratio of alcohol to additional ingredients—you also need to master the mixing techniques. Which libations are better shaken versus stirred? Follow these simple rules to look like a pro at your next holiday party. From fancy concoctions to simple spirits, there are only three bar rules to memorize:

Rule #1: Always use a cocktail shaker for juice drinks
Texture is a key factor mixologists consider when mixing a drink. “This is extremely important when you’re using citrus as an ingredient in your cocktail, because without the lightness that shaking imparts to the drink, the acidity of the citrus can be unpleasant and intense instead of light and refreshing,” says Erik Lombardo from the blog Food52. “And citrus juice and alcohol are very different densities, which means they don’t mix easily.” Drinks to always shake: margaritas, Tom Collins, Mai Tais, daiquiri cocktails, and pina coladas.

Rule #2: Want a stiff drink? Stir it!
“A great rule that will rarely ever steer you wrong is this: Stir spirits,” Lombardo says. “That is, if your cocktail is all liquor, stir it. The technical reason is simple: Spirits all contain alcohol and have relatively similar densities, so they can be incorporated very efficiently by just stirring them together.” Drinks to always stir: martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, Negronis, and Rob Roys.

Rule #3: Shake the holiday classics.
Let’s not forget about the spiked festive eggnog punches or velvety beverages that contain cream or egg whites. These fun drinks packed with flavor need to be shaken to add air, smoothness, and a frothy head. They may even have you shaking your hips out on the dance floor. Drinks to always shake: whiskey sour, Brandy Alexander, and White Russian.

Don’t miss the secret intel your bartender won’t tell you. Cheers!

Popular Videos

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Hope Daniels
Hope Daniels is a contributor to RD.com's Lifestyle section, where she writes about life’s gifts and slips. From the depths of personal routine habits to a hilarious look at social blunders her articles have also appeared on partner sites, the healthy.com, family handyman.com and msn.com. Her work in parenting and pop-culture has also been published on WEtv.com and ScaryMommy. She earned her BA in Journalism from Indiana University.