The Science of Shaking Up Controversy

Matt Robold is an Orange County, California-based blogger with a passion for rum, an interest he indulges on his blog Rum Dood.

Does your shaking style really make a difference in the final temperature and dilution of your drink?

If you’re not a bartender, this question has probably never occurred to you.   If you are a bartender (or just someone who obsesses about cocktails for no particular reason other than they’re tasty – such as myself), it’s possible that this question has kept you up at nights.

In Saturday’s “The Science of Shaking” session, a panel consisting of Eben Klemm, Dave Arnold, and Alex Day shared their research thus-far on the matter.  This was no mere conversation about apocryphal data or wives’ tales, but rather a discussion of research performed in a laboratory.  The results of their research: neither your style of shaking nor the type of ice used has ANY impact on the final temperature or dilution of your cocktail.

This may sound to some like blasphemy.  It certainly flies in the face of what people have been saying for years now.  The “hard shake,” two-handed, one-handed, over-the-shoulder, at-the-chest, over-your-head, with-your-feet, it doesn’t matter.  You can use Kold Draft ice, hand-chiseled cubes made with pure glacial samples pulled from the moons of Saturn, or stuff you scooped out of the ice machine down the hall.  At the end of the shake, your drink will be the same temperature with the same amount of water mixed into the drink.

Based on their research, the panel suggests that every drink will reach a plateau of chilling and dilution – a point at which the two factors will come to an equilibrium – at around 20 to 25 shakes.  Those shakes can be done rhythmically, or in a spastic “monkey shake” fashion which involves jumping up and down.

The one element of shaking that they did seem to see making a bit of a difference was the shaker used.  Their experiments would seem to indicate that if given the choice between using a standard glass and tin Boston style shaker or a two-tin Boston or all-metal cobbler shaker, you should opt for one of the all-metal options.  This is due to the fact that the glass in a normal Boston shaker actually steals cooling energy from the enclosed system.  You can limit the amount of energy stolen by pre-chilling the glass if you’re an ardent supporter of the tin-and-glass kit.

Before you brandish your pitchforks or throw up your hands to declare that all that you’ve learned in the past 2 or 3 years was a waste however, consider the following things:

  • There is no quantifiable data on how or whether shaking styles and/or ice can impact the texture of a drink by changing how much aeration occurs in the system.  That will likely be the focus of increased study, and could very well bear out that there really is “One True Shake.”
  • Being freed from the dogma of “The One True Shake” allows bartenders to really explore their own styles and differentiate themselves from others (hel-lo Showmanship!).
  • While which ice you use in your shaker may not matter, it certainly makes a difference when it comes to presentation to the customer.  No one can really tell if you’re using ice from the ice machine down the hall while it’s in the shaker, but once it’s in the glass you can bet the customer is going to be happier with clear, well-cut ice.
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