Aside from shaking, stirring is the most used technique for making cocktails.

Even though it's used less frequently than the shaking method, it's still an exceptionally important skill to add to your bartending arsenal, as many classic cocktails call for its use (and it actually predates shaking).

Stirring a cocktail isn’t like stirring a cup of tea or coffee; it requires precision to achieve top quality results. Read on to find out how to stir a cocktail correctly, why we do it, and which tools you'll need.

Why stir cocktails?

The aim of stirring a cocktail is to incorporate all the ingredients together whilst also chilling them. This is contrary to shaking, because the goal in shaking is also to add air to the drink to create texture.

The proper stirring technique is designed to chill and mix without aerating the drink, creating a silky, smooth texture. Stirring is used with spirit-only cocktails, and it’s very rare that you’ll stir a drink containing citrus juices or any other non-alcoholic mixers.


Gavin Wrigley stirring cocktails using bar spoons

The essential tool needed for stirring drinks behind the bar is the bar spoon; an elongated spoon, of which there are three variations available. Aside from the bar spoon, ice, and the ingredients of your cocktail, you’ll also need a mixing glass, or vessel to mix your stirred cocktails in.

The most commonly used vessel for mixing stirred cocktails is the straight sided pint glass, (often called a mixing glass), cocktail pint glass, or a cocktail shaker itself.

The glass is often preferred, not only because they are so many of them behind the bar compared to the shaker, but also because it is transparent, allowing customers to watch the magic of their cocktail being mixed.

How to stir a cocktail

On the surface, stirring cocktails looks like a simple business, but to effectively and efficiently stir a cocktail, you must practice the proper technique to really nail it.

Just sticking bar spoons in a glass and swirling them around won’t cut it, and will produce mediocre results at best.

So how do you do make the perfect stirred cocktail? Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Fill your mixing vessel with ice cubes, almost to the brim.
  2. Add the ingredients for your cocktail.
  3. Hold the bar spoon with the stem between two of your fingers, with all your fingers placed on either side of the stem. Some like to hold it between their index finger and middle finger, others with their middle finger and ring finger; it’s whatever is comfortable for you.
  4. The most common is cocktail stirring technique is with two on each side, between the middle and ring finger.
  5. Now you want to stir your bar spoon around the perimeter of the mixing glass. Push the spoon all the way to the bottom of the glass and keep the bowl facing inwards. Push the spoon back and forth with your fingers as it goes around the mixing glass, your wrist will join in with this motion and it should be a fluid and consistent movement. Don’t force the stir as this will make the spoon jump around with the ice and won't do its job.
  6. This is the “technique” and is the hardest part to learn - so practice, practice, practice!
  7. Remove the spoon, place a Julep strainer over the top of the vessel and strain your chilled and integrated cocktail into a serving glass.
  8. Garnish and serve!

Once you have this method down, you’ll be able to feel the fluid motion with which your hand moves and you’ll be stirring cocktails with ease!

The general practice is to stir 30-40 times before decanting into the serving glass. Some like to stir twenty times in each direction, some will do it in one direction, it’s entirely up to you.

Best stirred cocktails

manhattan cocktail

The most commonly stirred cocktails tend to be classics. You’ll find yourself making these mixed drinks often behind the bar; allowing you to practice your stirring technique just as often.

  • The Negroni

  • The Manhattan

  • The Martini (now more often found shaken, thanks to 007)

  • The Boulevardier

  • Sazerac

  • Gimlet (can be served shaken or stirred)

  • Rob Roy

  • Rusty Nail

For more tips and tricks on bar tools and skills, take a look at our guide to the bartender basics