With Father’s Day quickly approaching, this month’s cocktail post from our Nashville-based cocktail expert Jesse Goldstein discusses the importance of an often-overlooked component of boozy drinks—water. Want to know when to shake and when to stir (or the perfect cocktail for celebrating the fathers in your life)? Read on. From Jesse:
It was in 1806 that The Balance and Columbian Repository first defined the word “cocktail.” Simply defined, it read that a “cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” For those with a keen eye, you might recognize this as the basic recipe for a classic Old Fashioned cocktail. But what I think of when I read that is what most people take for granted in a cocktail; the water. Besides booze, water is perhaps the most important ingredient in any cocktail, imparted usually through the use of ice. The correct proportion of water in a drink can help make it more palatable. Too much simply waters it down. So how do you get it right?
The key, I’ve learned, is all in preparation. Cocktails are made in more less two manners—shaken or stirred. Yes, there are some that you simply build in a glass, but for the sake of argument, let’s put those in the “stirred” category. With one simple rule, you can look at the ingredients of a cocktail and know which method is preferred.
James Bond always seemed like such a badass when he ordered his “martini, shaken, not stirred.” But what I’ve come to realize is that he was doing it wrong. Of course there’s room for personal preference, but if you’re like me, you like having some rules to go by. So here it is; if a cocktail has fruit juice or syrups, shake it. If a cocktail is only comprised of spirits, you stir it.
Shaking a cocktail will not only add more water to it, but also aerate it, adding millions of tiny bubbles that change the mouthfeel of the drink. As you’re shaking, the ice breaks up, providing more surface area, and therefore more water. In contrast, the method of stirring certainly also dilutes the cocktail, but it yields a silkier outcome and cocktail meant for slow sipping and enjoyment.
Shaking a cocktail.
You can stock your bar with professional tools or simply use what you have on hand. Either way, you’ll want to have a few essentials. The first is a good shaker. I prefer a Boston shaker, comprised of a large metal tin and smaller tin or glass that fits inside it. What’s important that you have a good seal so you’re not splattering cocktail around the room while shaking.
Before you add any ice, start by measuring your ingredients into the smaller of the two sides of the shaker. This allows you take your time gathering and measuring without fear of dilution. Once ready, fill tin or glass with ice. Invert the larger tin over the ice-filled portion and give it a good ‘whack’ with the base of your hand to create a seal. You should be able to lift the entire shaker by just the top.
Once sealed, invert the shaker so that the larger tin is on the bottom. With one hand on the base and another holding the top, shake the cocktail vigorously. Remember that you’re not just chilling a drink, but aerating it. To do this, you’ll need to shake it hard and fast for a minimum of 10-15 seconds.
Now for the hard part—separating the two pieces. That seal that you created helped hold the cocktail inside of the shaker, but to get the cocktail from the shaker, you’ll have to break the seal. With the large half resting on a flat surface, grasp the shaker firmly with one hand with two fingers on the top portion and the rest of your hand on the bottom. Using the heel of your other hand, strike the top rim of the metal shaker to break the seal. If it does not work the first time, turn the glass a quarter turn and repeat.
The final step is straining. A Hawthorn strainer is the go-to tool for this. The spring fits neatly inside the shaker tin, allowing you to pour the cocktail into a prepared glass, leaving the larger pieces of ice behind. Depending on the ingredients in your cocktail, you may also want to use a fine mesh strainer to catch bits of herbs or citrus.
Stirring a cocktail.
Honestly, you can use most anything for stirring cocktails. While I am definitely a fan of a cocktail mixing pitcher, you can also simply use a pint glass or even a small glass pitcher. In addition, you’ll need a cocktail spoon (or any spoon really), and a strainer. Most people prefer the use of a julep strainer for this. Julep strainers were created for their namesake and would be placed over the top of a mint julep to allow imbibing on the drink without ice falling out.
Like with a shaker, I prefer to add my ingredients to the mixing glass prior to adding any ice. Once you’ve measured in the spirits, fill your glass at least halfway with ice. Slide the spoon along the side of the glass and swirl the cocktail and ice around in a circular motion. Cocktail spoons are designed for this purpose with narrow handles making it easy to create a seamless fluid motion.
You’ll know you’re finished stirring when the outside of the glass becomes ice cold. Then insert your julep strainer into the mixing glass or pitcher and strain your cocktail into a chilled cocktail glass. Depending on the cocktail, you may want to add fresh ice to the finished drink or simply sip it as is.
Stirred: Classic Martini
Depending on personal preference, you can opt to use a twist of lemon in place of olives or vodka in place of gin.
3 ounces gin
1 ounce dry vermouth
Add your gin and vermouth to a cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir to chill. Strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with a pick of three olives.
Stirred: Old Fashioned Cocktail
Truly a classic, an Old Fashioned is actually stirred directly in the cocktail glass. It checks off each of the ingredients in that original definition and can be spiced up with special bitters or even the use of demerara sugar in place of white sugar. And while the classic calls for rye whiskey, an old fashioned could easily be made with virtually any base spirit.
1 cocktail spoon granulated sugar
23 dashes of bitters
1 cocktail spoon water
2 ounces rye whiskey
strip of lemon zest
Start by placing the sugar in the bottom of your glass. Saturate it with bitters and add the cocktail spoon of water. Using a wooden muddler, blend the mixture until most of the sugar has dissolved. Add ice and whiskey and stir to combine, until the outside of the glass becomes cold. Express the oils from the strip of lemon zest over the cocktail and drop into the drink.
One of my all-time favorite cocktails, a Negroni has the perfect balance of sweet and bitter and is made even better with a good quality sweet vermouth. My favorite is Carpano Antica. While it’s somewhat pricey, it’s a worthy splurge.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth, ideally Carpano Antica
strip of lemon zest
Add all three spirits to the cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir to chill. Strain into a glass with a couple fresh ice cubes. Garnish with strip of lemon zest by first expressing oils over the glass before dropping it into the cocktail.
Similar to a Negroni, a classic Boulevardier is made by simply swapping out bourbon for gin. In this interpretation of a Boulevardier, I use Cynar, an artichoke-based amaro in place of Campari and orange zest in place of lemon.
1 ounce whiskey, preferably rye
1 ounce Cynar
1 ounce sweet vermouth
strip of orange zest
Add all three spirits to the cocktail mixing glass. Add ice and stir to chill. Strain into a glass and add an ice cube or two if desired. Garnish with strip of orange zest by first expressing oils over the glass before dropping it into the cocktail.
Shaken: Rum Daiquiri
Don’t be fooled by the sugary sweet cruise ship renditions of a daiquiri. A traditional daiquiri is a magical balance of rum, lime and sugar and is one of the most palatable classic cocktails out there. Feel free to experiment with different rums of your choice, however I usually gravitate towards aged rums for their flavor. You may also choose to use a demerara simple syrup to add even more complexity.
2 ounces rum
.75 ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
.75 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
lime wheel for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, add rum, lime juice, and simple syrup. Fill with ice and shake to chill. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel.
Shaken: The Last Word
This boozy concoction benefits from an extra vigorous shaking, adding a little effervescence to the fragrant combination of spirits.
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Chartreuse
1 ounce Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
twist of lime zest
Add gin, Chartreuse, Luxardo, and lime juice to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake forcefully for 15-20 seconds before straining into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with twist of lime.
Shaken: Brandy Sour
Brandy has moved beyond the snifter and is being worked into many cocktails these days. For me, there’s nothing better than this simple shaken cocktail of brandy, lemon juice and simple syrup.
2.5 ounces brandy
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water)
strip of lemon zest
Add brandy, lemon juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake to chill before straining into a rocks glass with a couple ice cubes. Express the oils from the lemon zest into the glass and drop into the cocktail for garnish.
Shaken: El Pipino
Like a mojito, this cocktail requires the use of two strainers—a Hawthorn strainer to keep the ice in the shaker and a fine mesh strainer to keep the bits of cucumber out of the cocktail.
2.5 ounces good quality blanco tequila
1 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 ounce finely-grated cucumber
slice of cucumber
Combine the tequila, lemon juice, simple syrup and grated cucumber in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake to chill. Double-strain into a glass with fresh ice and garnish with slice of cucumber.
Photos courtesy of Jesse Goldstein