Shaking is the most extroverted skill a bartender possesses, yet whilst shaking they stare away from their guests with a trance-like look upon their face. What is this act of shaking, and why is it done so? The truth is that you can hear next to nothing whilst your shaking a cocktail and although it is the most observed and lively of bar skills, shaking is - to the outsider - the most mysterious skill in the bartender’s arsenal. How, why, what, and when are all answered below along with some other questions I’m sure you’re harbouring.

Why Shake?

We shake for the simultaneous purpose of chilling and mixing our ingredients. Yes stirring is an option but we use these two options because they deliver different results. When you shake a drink you are not only chilling and fusing your chosen ingredients together but you are also aerating them and infusing them with air, changing the texture of the drink, mainly making it lighter and brighter.

There is a general rule of thumb for choosing shaking over stirring and that is if the drink your making contains something other than spirits, then shake it. Anything with citrus or egg whites is shaken; “shake it to wake it” is how the saying goes when concerning these ingredients! Many include dairy in this list but it is not always desirable to shake when using dairy in a cocktail.


Your shaken drinks include common and classic cocktails like the margarita, the cosmopolitan the daiquiri and the lemon drop martini; does it matter to the cocktail which style of shaker you use? In short, no. Each shaker has elements which make it standout, however no cocktail prefers one type of shaker, and vice versa. There are two different styles of shakers available to you.

Cobbler Shaker - The cobbler shaker - its history and more are explained here - is a shaker tin with a nipple cap, the nipple itself is a removable cap and this all has a built in strainer. Having the strainer built into the cap makes it quicker to decant your cocktail after shaking, whilst the cap is also less likely to come apart during the shaking, unlike the Boston shaker below.

Boston Shaker - The Boston shaker is, again, a two part contraption. The first part is the integral part: the metal shaker; or “tin”. The other half is either a conical, straight sided pint glass - often called a shaker glass in the USA - or a smaller tin, metal like the main shaker and this is often called a “cheater tin”. Read more on the Boston shaker here!

The Boston shaker is the preferred shaker for bartenders, mainly because of its accessibility and versatility. Yet this doesn’t mean it shakes a better drink. The quality of the drink is not down to the shaker used but rather the shaker whom does the preparation and the shaking.

Shaking Technique

bartender using shaker

A bartenders shaking trance conveys an element of mystery to the whole process of shaking when, in reality, it’s very straightforward. It all boils down to two factors, your timing and your method.

Timing - A drink needs to be shaken for between 10 and 15 seconds - those that have studied the science of shaking have pinpointed 12 seconds as the perfect amount - any less and it won’t be cold enough, any more and you might over dilute the drink; although this really only happens with excessive over shaking.

Method - You may have seen bartenders shake in a huge amount of different ways, one handed, two handed, over their shoulder, over their head, under their legs perhaps, however none of this really matters. What really matters is that the drink inside the shaker gets chilled, aerated and diluted correctly. To do this you must shake hard and fast. Not at rocket speed, but you should feel the ice hitting both ends of the shaker.

I may have said how you shake doesn’t really matter, however there are other important elements of shaking which concern the safety of those around you i.e. stopping your shaker from leaving your hands and turning into a bar guest seeking missile. Here’re the two points to keep in mind regarding safety.

Point Down the Bar - When you’re shaking NEVER shake in the direction of a guest, ALWAYS shake down the bar. The worst scenario from this is that if your shaker splits open it’ll hit or soak a co-worker, not one of your guests.

Hold with Two Hands - Place one hand on one end of the shaker, with either your thumb or a few fingers firmly on the end of the shaker. Do exactly the same with the other hand on the other end of the shaker. In the eventuality that the two parts separate neither will go very far as you’ll have a safe grip on both of them.

Shaking: Using a Shaker

  1. Fill the shaker portion of your apparatus 3/4 full of ice and add your ingredients.
  2. Either put on your cobbler shaker cap (ensuring the strainer cap is on too) or insert the second part of your Boston setup - either a conical pint glass or cheater tin - inside it at an angle. Give it a firm tap to create a seal.
  3. Place one hand on the shaker with either your thumb or bottom two fingers over the base of the shaker. Place the other hand on the other half of your shaker setup, again placing your thumb or bottom two fingers on the top of the vessel.
  4. Face down the bar, shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds. With a cobbler shaker all you need to do now is remove the nipple cap and strain your cocktail.
  5. With a Boston shaker, it’s a little trickier. You can either tap the shaker on the side to break the airtight seal, or push the second part of your setup diagonally toward the centre whilst simultaneously squeezing just above where the seal is. A slight pop will tell you of the release of pressure. Use a hawthorne strainer to hold back the ice and also strain the finer shards from your drink.

Shaking is not a one and done art or technique, as nothing ever is, but it is like riding a bike; once you’ve got it, you’ll never lose it! Practice well and try over shaking and under shaking cocktails; considering both the time element and the vigour element as you do so.

Variations on the Standard Shake

Before we clock off there are two methods of shaking which are used when you’re using egg whites in a cocktail, to help whisk up that delicately fluffy head with which these drinks are associated. These methods are:

The Dry Shake - This involves shaking all your ingredients without ice - hence the word dry - for thirty seconds before shaking them again with ice; as you normally would. This helps to increase the fluffiness of the head atop the cocktail.

The Reverse Dry Shake - Can only be done using a Boston shaker setup. Here you shake your cocktail as normal, separate your shaking vessels and strain the cocktail into the vessel left empty. Then you re-shake the cocktail again, in the same vessel, just without the ice. This technique produces more foam than the conventional dry shake.