The goal when stirring drinks is to chill and dilute while preserving the clarity and texture of the final product. A stirred drink is typically less chilled and diluted than a shaken one, and has a ticker velvety texture as you sip it.
Stirring drinks is a fickle art, and is really just a matter of dialing in a process by getting used to your tools and ice, and then keeping everything consistent.
Here is a quick science lesson that goes for both stirring and shaking. Never forget it!
THERE IS NO CHILLING WITHOUT DILUTION.
For ice to chill down a drink it has to melt, it’s as simple as that. When the ice absorbs heat from the liquid it melts the edge of the cube into cold water which then chills and dilutes the drink.
Here are the basics of the process:
- Add the ingredients of the drink into a chilled mixing glass or shaker tin in order from least, to most expensive. (That way if you screw it up you won’t waste as much money)
- Give the liquid one or two quick swirls to mix.
- Add ice about one full layer of cubes above the liquid level.
- Stir until desired chill and dilution is reached.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or over ice.
WHAT TO STIR IN?
There are a two options here which will both work equally as well when used properly: a mixing glass or the large half of your shaker tin. Both options have advantages and setbacks and here they are…
First, the mixing glass. This is the option that almost all bars tend to use when stirring drinks. They look really nice on the backbar, it’s fun to watch this ice swirl around, and their wide mouth makes it easy to get a good circular stirring motion going. However, they are not without their setbacks.
When you are stirring cocktails at home your mixing glass will usually be at room temperature which is not ideal. After adding ice to a a room temperature glass, the ice will have to chill down the dense glass as well as the liquid inside which will result in a more diluted and less chilled drink. You can obviously combat this by sticking your mixing glass in the freezer for 2 minutes before getting started.
The other obvious drawback is that they break of your drop them… You can solve this issue by not being a damn fool and keeping your glassware on the counter where it belongs.
The alternative of using your shaker works nicely because you don’t need to buy new equipment, and it will chill down really quickly thereby using the ice’s chilling power to focus on the liquid of the cocktail. On the downside, shaker tins definitely don’t look as cool, they can be more difficult to get a stirring rhythm going, and they don’t have enough weight to stay in place while you’re twirling the ice around.
My favorite option for use at home is a mixing glass, chill it in the freezer before you start mixing drinks, and don’t break it!
ICE FOR STIRRING DRINKS
The main thing to consider here is size of the ice since surface area is what will determine that rate of chilling and dilution.
The ideal ice for stirring cocktails are approximately 1 inch (or slightly larger) cubes that have just been taken out of the freezer. Ice that is much than 1 inch will chill the mixture down more quickly but leaves a vary small window of time where the drink is properly diluted before it turns into an over-diluted mess. On the contrary, really large ice cubes will dilute more slowly allowing you to keep checking for the perfect dilution, but you will need to stir for longer than you want to.
One more nit picky topic is surface water on the cubes. Ice that has been sitting on the countertop for a few minutes will have a decent amount of water that has melted off the cubes. This will add water to your drink as soon as you drop the ice in which will result in a slightly more diluted drink when it is properly chilled. Will this really make a huge difference? Well no, but it makes me feel better to control everything and use ice right from the freezer.
Add ice into the mixing glass after your other ingredients so that the ice sits one or two layers above the level of the liquid. There is no need to fill your mixing glass all the way to the top, as some bartenders do, because any ice that didn’t touch the liquid by the end of the stirring is just wasted and may be just adding extra dilution.
There are all types of different ways that bartenders hold their spoons as they stir. As classy as some of them seem, this really doesn’t do much good other than make you look cool (which holds a lot of value for some). There are certain grips that will allow you to stir two drinks at once but for home bartending this really isn’t necessary. To be honest, the way I hold my bar spoon definitely does not look that cool at all.
Hold your spoon (or chopstick, or whatever else you want to use) so that you are comfortable and can get a good consistent circular rhythm going that you will be able to repeat every time you stir a drink.
HOW LONG TO STIR?
This is the part you are going to have to develop a feel for. Many things will influence when your drink is ready such as the size of your ice, how quickly you stir and what is in the cocktail.
After using the same ice, stirring technique and mixing glass you will start to get a feel for how long it takes. Watch how much dilution happens by noticing how high the liquid comes up the side of the glass to get a better gauge on when your drink is ready.
Stirred drinks can have various temperatures and dilutions that they taste the best at which comes down to your preference. Stirred drinks with clear spirits tend to better when they are ice cold and have higher dilutions, whereas barrel aged spirits tend to lose a bit of flavor at lower temperatures so drinks like Old Fashioneds and Manhattans you may not want to stir as long.
As always, the best way to learn is by doing so go stir some cocktails!
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