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

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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:

THE ICE.

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 Make a Canadian Old Fashioned

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.)

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Nathan Caudle

Nathan Caudle

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