Second to shaking, stirring is the most used technique for producing cocktails. Even though it is less used than the technique of shaking it is still an exceptionally important skill to add to your bartending arsenal, as many classic cocktails call for its use and it actually predates the technique of shaking by quite a long time. Stirring a cocktail isn’t like stirring a cup of tea or coffee; it requires precision to achieve high quality results. Read on to find out why we stir, how we stir and what tools we use.

Why We Stir

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

Tools

The tool necessary for stirring drinks behind the bar is the bar spoon; an elongated spoon, of which there are three variations available. To learn more about the bar spoon, its variations and its history see our article on the bar tool, the bar spoon! Besides the bar spoon, ice, and the ingredients of your cocktail you’ll need a mixing glass, or vessel, to mix stirred cocktails. The most commonly used vessel for mixing stirred cocktails is the straight sided pint glass, often called a mixing glass or cocktail pint glass, or a cocktail shaker itself. The glass is often preferred, not only for its abundance behind the bar compared to the shaker but also because of its clear nature, allowing customers to watch the magic of their cocktail being mixed.

How?

Stirring cocktails seems to be simple, but to effectively and efficiently stir a cocktail one must practice the technique because it is by far the most important aspect of the whole process. Just sticking a spoon in the glass and swirling it around just won’t cut it and will produce mediocre results at best. How do you do it properly? Here’s a step by step guide for you!

  1. Fill the vessel in which you’re going to stir your drink with ice, almost to the brim.
  2. Add the ingredients for your cocktail.
  3. Hold the 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 and middle finger, others with their middle and ring; it’s whatever is comfortable for you, the most common is with two on each side, between the middle and ring finger.
  4. Now you want to stir the spoon around the perimeter of the glass. Push the spoon all the way to the bottom of the glass and keeping the bowl facing inwards. Push the spoon back and forth with your fingers as it goes around the glass, your wrist will join in with this motion and it should be a fluid and consistent motion. Don’t force the stir as this will have the spoon jumping around with the ice and not fulfilling its job. This is the “technique” and is the hardest part to learn - so practice, practice, practice!
  5. Remove the spoon, place a strainer over the top of the vessel and strain your chilled and integrated cocktail into your serving glass. Garnish and serve!

Once you have the technique 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.

Common Cocktails

manhattan cocktail

Common stirred cocktails, as mentioned before, are long time classics. The cocktails below are mostly classics and you’ll find yourself making them 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
  • The Boulevardier
  • Sazerac
  • Gimlet - Can be served shaken or stirred
  • Penicillin
  • Rob Roy
  • Rusty Nail

Do you want to master this bar skill technique? The International Bartender Course might be just the thing for you!