There are a lot of things that go into making a great cocktail: quality spirits, proper measurements, the right kind and amount of ice and what you do to it just before you serve it. There are three basic gateways to cocktail nirvana: building the cocktail in the glass, shaking in a Boston shaker or stirring in a mixing glass.
Pop quiz: do you shake or stir a Martini? How about a Manhattan? A Dark & Stormy? If you don't know the answer, we want to clear it up for you. Because if get served one more shaken Manhattan my brain might explode.
Here are the only four reasons you EVER need to shake a cocktail:
1. There is citrus juice in it.
If you are drinking an Aviation, a Hemingway Daiquiri, a margarita, etc. -- by all means, SHAKE AWAY. In a citrus cocktail, you want to add air bubbles into the mix so that the drink clouds and looks pretty.
2. There are egg whites in it.
Intrepid cocktail drinkers will take an egg white in certain cocktails, which you shake to add a velvety mouthfeel and pretty white foam on top. It is not as scary as it sounds and makes for a lovely presentation.
3. There is cream or half and half in it.
I still just cannot get into this category of cocktails, which include the Classic Brandy Alexander and "flips" of all sorts. However, the shaking reason remains the same, you are trying to incorporate air bubbles, lightness and frothiness.
4. You are letting a fictional spy tell you what to do.
I know, I know. James Bond ordered his Martini "shaken, not stirred." Well, here are a few things you should keep in mind about James Bond: he was a killer, a womanizer and also, um, fictional. I once heard a bartender explain this phenomenon thusly: "If someone orders a vodka Martini, I'll shake it -- because vodka drinkers don't want to taste the booze and you can water it down more. If someone orders a gin Martini, I stir it -- because gin drinkers want to taste the botanicals and the balance." You decide for yourself which kind of drinker you want to be, and if you want a fictional character to inform your adult beverage choices.
What's the deal with "building?"
That is just a fancy word for making your drink in the glass you'll serve it in, like a Dark & Stormy or an Old Fashioned. You do this when you add soda water (or another carbonated ingredient) to a drink, or when your drink is simple and served on the rocks.
So when do you stir a cocktail?
ALL THE OTHER TIMES, GUYS. Manhattans, Martinis, Rob Roys, Negronis, any cocktail that contains only spirits gets stirred. Okay? Settled? If you are a bartender or a cocktail lover and you shake a Manhattan we cannot be friends. That is the rule.