👉🏼 AVAILABLE NOW: Essential Cocktail Formulas 👈🏼

To Stir or not to Stir? Wet Ice and the Dilution Gremlin

shake or stir cocktails graphic

On top of memorizing ingredients and proportions, you also need to know which technique to use: to stir or to shake cocktails!

(Wondering which shakers to use? We recommend these Professional Boston Cocktail Shaker Weighted Shaking Tins.)

What’s the general rule for shaking vs stirring cocktails?

Most purists would say…

  • STIR Clear ingredients (spirits, vermouth, etc.) 
  • SHAKE Opaque ingredients (citrus, liqueurs, egg whites, etc.) 

But alas, it’s not that simple!

To understand why let’s review the 3 functions that shaking and stirring serve: 

  1. Combines ingredients
  2. Chills ingredients
  3. Adds dilution

Dilution becomes the annoying little gremlin you need to deal with to achieve a tasty drink.

While shaking dilutes a drink more than stirring, there’s another factor at play:


There are many types of ice: pebble, cracked, crushed, crescent or Hoshisaki perfect 1” x 1” cocktail cubes. 

And you can get real nerdy about it, but essentially, the type of ice you use affects your dilution as much as whether you stir or shake!

How Standard “Wet Ice” Affects Dilution

Most bars have machines that produce small and/or hollow ice—and the higher surface area results in ice that melts more quickly.

Wet ice significantly increases the dilution of a drink.

If you stir, you limit the aeration and dilution significantly and have much more control. If you want even less dilution, use sturdier cocktail ice that has higher density and holds a greater chill—dryer ice.

There was a lauded local cocktail establishment in Victoria, BC, that would stir 90% of their cocktails including Aviations, Sidecars, and Last Words. The bar manager knew the ice situation they were dealing with was not ideal and adjusted to lower the margin for error with his team’s drink making. 

Related:  How to Conduct an Interview: Asking Powerful Questions

In other words, they stirred cocktails to prevent over dilution from wet ice.

(Another option is to use a hawthorne strainer to strain out excess water from the wet ice before shaking.)

If you enjoyed this, join our Boomerang community of over 3,000 bartenders and receive content like this every 2 weeks delivered right to your inbox.

Nathan Caudle

Nathan Caudle

Let us know what you think!

Welcome to the Nimble Bar Co

The Nimble Bartending School is the premier training for those who want to be masters of the craft and develop a powerful skill-set. Find out more.

The Cocktail Guide: The 50 Essential Classics Modern Bartenders Must Know

The Cocktail Guide

Awaken the inner bartender within with this tightly-curated Cocktail Guide featuring recipes that we’ve battle-tested ourselves. Follow our templates to make these drinks perfectly every time.

Mastery Begins With the Basics

The Five Classic Cocktails

While bartending is about so much more than just the drinks, a professional takes the time to master the basics. In The Five you’ll learn cocktail DNA, the 5 most important classic cocktails, and how you can come up with your own creations on the fly.

Learn About The Skills of the Gig Economy

Most Valuable Skills

The skills of a great bartender are highly in-demand across industries. Get this free guide to learn more.

Recent Posts

Nimble Bag of Bartending Tricks

Want to up your bartending game?

Get free tips, recipes, and strategies designed to make you a better bartender. 👇🏽

Download The Five: A Short Guide to Master the Basics

The Five Download
  • The DNA that influence 99% of cocktails
  • How to make The Five most important classic cocktails better than most bars
  • The building blocks for creating your own custom cocktails