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Dec 2, 2011 11:15 AM

Shaking vs. stirring, Peychaud's, and other newbie tips?

I've tried searching for a lot of this info, but any combination of those words brings up just too many various threads to be of any use...

I'm fairly new to making cocktails at home. I've always enjoyed mixed drinks at restaurants/bars, but I've always felt that they were more trouble than they were worth at home. I pretty much just stuck with basic "mixed drinks" that I got started on in college (rum and coke, gin and sprite, etc...) or sipping things neat / on the rocks. I'm getting away from that now, because I am finally starting to get to a point in my life that I have more money available, and can explore items not on the bottom shelf in my liquor store. I want to be able to enjoy them in more diverse ways at home, not just when out.

I'm starting to build a modest home bar, albeit somewhat limited. (There are only two of us, and my SO rarely drinks anything other than beer or wine.) Because I've been reading so much on CH, I have more advanced knowledge than some people just starting to get into home drink making; I know the difference between a cocktail and a sling (even though we rarely use them correctly), the difference between a real martini and everything else served in a cocktail glass, that a true daiquiri does not contain a neon-colored mixer, etc... But I still am befuddled when it comes to many techniques, and I'm trying to figure out what to do with some ingredients, and how to proceed in my experimenting.

So, my biggest question is, what is the difference between shaking and stiring a drink? Not as in how to do so, but why? I always assumed that the shaking was for things you wanted colder than stirring, but I saw another post (probably in the martini thread) that mentioned stirring a martini to keep it velvety smooth. So, clearly there's more to it than just temperature. What is the rationale behind each method?

Also, what can I do with Peychaud's bitters? When I saw them in my local store, I picked them up because I've seen them discussed here. I know I can make a Sazerac, but I don't have absinthe, and I'm not that fond of it. I suppose I might enjoy one but I'm not sure I want to shell out the money for a bottle of something I don't like until I try it elsewhere first. I've used the Peychaud's in an Old Fashioned at home, but I feel like I should do something else to explore them. Ideas?

What other advice do any of you have for someone who is just beginning to explore cocktail crafting at home? Should I just get a bar book and jump in?

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  1. The conventional wisdom is that drinks that are a combination of spirits (martinis, Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, etc.) should be stirred, but that drinks containing juice or egg whites should be shaken. Shaking creates froth, which you want in your juice/egg white drinks (and egg whites need shaking or else they will be pretty gross), but you want your martini and Manhattan to be crystal clear.

    As to Pechaud's, there are a lot of cocktail mavens on hear who can probably tell you a number of good drinks, though in my experience, many include Absinthe, since it's similar to the Anise taste of Peychuad's. But the Vieux Carre is one that doesn't have Absinthe:

    Vieux Carre

    Ingredients (from Drinkboy):

    3/4 ounce rye whiskey
    3/4 ounce brandy
    3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
    1/8 ounce Benedictine
    1 dash Peychaud's bitters
    1 dash Angostura Bitters

    Garnish with a lemon twist.

    1. Stirring is for straight spirits drinks (no juice). It keeps air out of the drink (air can change the perception of the drink as well as the perception of smoothness). Sometimes drinks with a dash or two of citrus are stirred as well.

      Shaking is for drinks with juice, dairy, or eggs. Exceptions exist like Dirty Martinis. Shaking will bring air into the drink which will perk up juices and create a foaminess in dairy and egg drinks.

      If you need to be sure of the difference in taste of a shaken and stirred drink, make two Martinis (2 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth). Shake one and stir the other. The shaken one will taste sharper and the stirred one will taste smoother. This was how it was demonstrated to me. In older cocktail books (like the Savoy), there are instructions to shake straight spirits drinks; most of this is due to the curation of random recipes without editing them.

      For technique tips, I recommend Robert Hess' book The Essential Bartender's Guide. Hess' technique and explanations are rather good. Contains some solid recipes as well.

      1. In addition to what sku and yarm mentioned, I'd like to address your comment about not enjoying absinthe.

        I think that many people don't actually like drinking the stuff straight. I'm not especially fond of it myself. It's a strong, acquired taste, and maybe not one you should bother acquiring.

        That said, there are many cocktails, such as the Sazerac, that use only a TINY BIT of absinthe. In those cases the idea isn't to taste the full blast of the absinthe, but rather for it to provide a subtle backdrop. And it's amazing how well it works in these drinks, and the power that it has to really transform a cocktail.

        I highly recommend buying a small bottle to play with, even if you think you don't like it. You should be able to find at least a couple of brands in the small bottles that they usually keep behind the register at liquor stores. Since you'll be using only a few drops per drink this size will last a long, long time and you won't lose much if it turns out that you really do detest the stuff in even minute quantities.

        2 Replies
        1. re: davis_sq_pro

          You know, I never thought to look and see if it was available in the small bottles. I've only ever had it straight (well, not straight, per se, but by itself in the traditional sugar cube / drippy water thingamajig preperation.) I didn't care for the flavor there, but would not be opposed to trying it in mixed drinks. A small bottle sure would allow me to do so easily. Thanks for the tip!

          1. re: Ditdah

            I got a 100 ml bottle of Grande Absente here in NC for around $10, i think it's 138 proof? Not home right now to check. Great way to have some available for a few dashes here and there without having to spring $70 for a full bottle.

            There is a recipe on the back of Original 100 proof Herbsaint (American version of absinthe) for the "Herbsaint frappe" - pour 2 oz over cracked ice, add sugar or simple syrup to taste - stir in an "up and down motion" until the glass is frosted (that's a new one for me).

            I guess it is the same principle as the traditional method of dripping ice water from an absinthe fountain over a sugar cube sitting on a spoon over a glass, but makes you look much less - uhh - sophisticated? ;-)

        2. I do think that you kind of have to "jump in" to really see what you like and what works for you. That said, the more you drink the more your taste buds will expand (I know, a hard road to go down but someone has to do it). "Alcohol" can be an acquired taste on some level. Absinthe is a good case in point (straight it can be a little harsh but in the right cocktail it can be wonderful - the Sazerac is one of my favorites now but I am not sure I could have liked it years ago).

          As far as any bitters goes, I highly recommend buying a few different "flavors" from a maker like Fee Brothers. Taste them side by side with just seltzer or club soda to get an idea of what they are about. A dash of bitters can really transform a cocktail of what is perceived as simple liquors. (I don't particularly like them in cocktails with sodas but with a juice or vermouth they are really impactful for me).

          I also recommend Dale DeGroff's book The Craft of the Cocktail if you are looking for a cocktail book. But there are TONS of resources online if you don't want to spend the money on a book and want to spend it on liquor instead.

          If anything, pick a liquor that you like and start exploring the range of what you can do with just that liquor and go from there. You'd be amazed of the range of what you can do with just a few liquors with different fruit juices, sours, vermouths, sodas. . . . .

          1. Everyone so far is right on. sku, yarm, and davis are experts on this subject. I work in the field as well; as a writer, consulting mixologist, and distiller and bitters producer. Besides Robert Hess's and Dale Degroff's books I recommend the 75th Anniversary Mr. Boston cocktail guide that just came out, and the PDT cocktail book that just came out, also Gary Regan's Joy of Mixology. With those five books you have everything covered. Then just play. The world of cocktails is FUN!

            One thing to remember when shaking and stirring is, the amount of time. I have been in several seminars which study this using remote temp. sensors mounted in the cocktail tins; as done by French Culinary Institute Director of Culinary Technology Dave Arnold and co. (I think Mr. Yarm was there as well.) When shaking you need at least 17 seconds of a nice firm shake. This dilutes the drink as much as will happen before it hits equilibrium and also hits the lowest temp. that it will get too. You can actually leave the drink in the shaker for several minutes after this and the temp. and dilution will not change. When stirring you need at least 35 seconds to get the same equilibrium. If you shake or stir less than these times you are not getting to the equilibrium point. This means not cold enough, and not diluted properly, so you will get a harsher drink when poured. Also when you shake or stir to equilibrium you get consistency. As long as the ingredient amounts are consistent as well. This means the drink comes out the same, time after time.

            To learn more food/beverage science geek stuff check out Dave Arnolds blog.
            Also there are a ton of great blogs and sites. Mr. Yarms is great, as are others who post here.

            As for bitters, Peychauds, Angostura, Bittermens, (and mine); play with them. Try a few dashes in any cocktail; or in seltzer. Get to know their taste profile. You will soon find which ones work better with which base spirits and which modifiers like liqueurs and juices.