Cocktail Techniques: Shaken, Stirred, Muddled, and Strained

Stirred cocktails, shaken cocktails, muddled cocktails… the variety of cocktail techniques can be quite confusing. The first step in building your cocktail knowledge is knowing when to apply the correct technique.

Certain drinks are meant for shaking, while others are meant for stirring, and others muddling. Factors in the decision are based on the ingredients in the cocktail and, for some drinks, the preference of the drinker (as per Mr. “shaken, not stirred” Bond). This post will help you learn the correct cocktail techniques, and knowing when to use each will ensure that you can create better cocktails.


When to Stir, Shake, or Muddle?

You stir cocktails that contain spirits only (no mixers or food ingredients). A stiff Manhattan or a classic Negroni are examples of ‘up’ drinks that are often stirred.

You shake cocktails that contain citrus juice, eggs, cream, or dairy. Think of Margaritas or a Pisco Sour.

You muddle cocktails that contain fruit and herbs. Drinks such as Mojitos or Mint Juleps are best muddled.


Tools for Mixing Cocktails

Measuring a Cocktail

Starting out with the right equipment will help you make better cocktails. A good bar setup will include:

  • Cocktail Shaker
  • Jigger / Measuring Device
  • Mixing Glass (you can also use the base of the cocktail shaker)
  • Hawthorne or Julep Strainer
  • Bar Spoon
  • Muddler
  • Serving Glasses

Extend your knowledge further by using glassware appropriate for the cocktail.

Stirred Cocktails

Best Stirring Technique

Classic cocktails to stir include the Manhattan, the Negroni, and the Rob Roy. This could also apply to mixed drinks that are built directly in the same glass they will be served in (and sometimes casually referred to as cocktails) such as a gin and tonic, or a rum and coke.

Why Stir a cocktail?

The goal of stirring is to combine ingredients gently and to also melt a little ice water in order to dilute a potent drink somewhat and make it more palatable.

What Is The Best Stirring Technique?

1. Fill your mixing glass halfway with ice.

2. Add your liquor(s) and other cocktail ingredients.

3. Place the bar spoon inside the glass, hold it at the top of the twisted part, and gently rotate it around the inside edge of the glass for 15-20 rotations.

Bonus Pro Tip: The most important thing is that you do not stir the cocktail rapidly or with too much vigor. Keep it slow and smooth.

Shaken Cocktails

Best Cocktail Shaking Tips

Cocktails that require shaking include the Sidecar, the Brandy Alexander, and the Margarita.

Why Shake a cocktail?

The purpose of shaking cocktails is to mix the ingredients thoroughly while also adding dilution from the ice in order to offer a slightly less strong and more palatable drink. For cocktails that contain egg white, the shaking method whips it into a white foam with a velvety mouthfeel.

Types of Cocktail Shakers

Cocktail shakers come in two basic types. The standard three-piece shaker has a built-in strainer, making it a convenient all-in-one solution. Meanwhile, the two-piece ‘Boston’ shaker does not, and requires a separate strainer when building and serving certain cocktails. Either can be used when learning how to shake a cocktail, it is simply a matter of personal preference.

What is the Best Cocktail Shaking Technique?

1. Fill your cocktail shaker halfway with ice.

2. Add your liquor(s) and other cocktail ingredients.

3. Make sure the lid is firmly in place

4. Hold the shaker firmly with one hand on each piece (if using the three-piece, a finger on top of the lid to hold that in place also).

5. With the cocktail shaker pointed away from your guests, shake vigorously over your shoulder for 10-15 seconds.

Bonus Pro Tip: Shake it like you mean it! The shaking method is meant to be more aggressive than stirring, so give it plenty of effort.

Muddled Cocktails

Correct Muddling Technique

Muddling is the process of “smushing” fruit, herbs, or sugar into a cocktail to infuse their flavors. Cocktails to muddle include the Mojito, the Old Fashioned*, and the Caipirinha. *There is some debate on the amount of muddling and the final serving of an Old Fashioned, but it belongs in this category.

Why Muddle?

The goal of muddling is to extract the oils from herbs, or the juice from fruits, to help their flavors mix with alcohol. Do not aim to smash the ingredients into oblivion, but gently draw out the essence of the food ingredients.

A muddler can be wooden, bamboo, or various other materials, and can also come with a rubber tip that helps avoid overly bruising herbs. If you do not currently have one, you can learn to muddle cocktails with the end of a wooden spoon or rolling pin.

What Is The Best Cocktail Muddling Technique?

1. Use a sturdy glass with a solid base or cocktail shaker.

2. Place your ingredients in the bottom of the mixing glass.

3. Gently press down and twist the muddler at the same time.

4. Repeat this about 4 to 6 times until the ingredients are sufficiently muddled.

Bonus Pro Tip: You can add ingredients at various times to allow for more or less muddling. Lime wedges or sugar can go in first, and take a few more turns, while delicate leaves such as mint can go in later, needing just a few turns to avoid damaging or overworking them.

Straining Cocktails

How To Strain a Cocktail

Straining is usually the penultimate step in making a cocktail no matter the preparation method.

Why Strain?

The goal of straining a cocktail is to remove various items before serving. It can be used to remove ice from a shaken drink or to remove broken leaves or fruit from a muddled cocktail.

What Is The Best Straining Technique?

There are several ways to strain your drinks, depending on the type of bar equipment you are using. The three-piece shaker is the easiest to work with because the strainer is built into the lid of the shaker.

The Boston shaker or a mixing glass requires that you use a separate tool to strain, and there are two main types that you can use. The Hawthorne strainer has a semi-circle of springs on the bottom, and a flat top that sits well on a shaker. The Julep strainer is a round, concave perforated strainer with a handle, and is often preferred if using a mixing glass.

Using a Three-piece Cocktail Shaker

1. Firmly hold the shaker with your forefinger and middle finger on top of the strainer lid.

2. Slowly tip the shaker upside down over the serving glass.

3. Give it a gentle shake to move the ice around and help all of the liquid escape.

Using a Boston Shaker and a Hawthorne Strainer

1. Place the Hawthorne strainer inside of the shaker with the springs facing down.

2. Hold the strainer in place with your forefinger.

3. Slowly tip the shaker over the serving glass.

Using a Boston Shaker (or Mixing Glass) and a Julep Strainer

1. Place the Julep strainer in the shaker with the bowl of the spoon facing out (upside down).

2. Hold the strainer on the joint between the handle and bowl using your forefinger.

3. Slowly tip the shaker over the serving glass.

Cocktail Knowledge and Techniques Cheers

These tips will build your cocktail-making skills and understanding of the methods used, and learning the proper techniques will help you serve (and enjoy) higher-quality drinks.

You may also want to further your cocktail knowledge by learning to make your own bitters or apply your new cocktail-making skills with these classic cocktails with a twist.

Shout out to Eric Ash for the photoshoot!


by Lee Jarvis