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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Stirred Drinks

Stirred Drinks

"Shaken, not stirred," is how James Bond orders his vodka martinis in the movies. The fact is, martinis, like many "spirit forward" cocktails, are designed to be stirred. Shaking gin (or vodka) and vermouth leads to a cloudy, aerated drink with little chunks of ice in it, not the smooth, silky nectar Bacchus intended.

"Unlike moustaches and bow ties, the shake vs. stir divide is not an arbitrary byproduct of bartender groupthink," insists Adam Stemmler, the award-winning San Diego-based bartender behind Blind Tiger Cocktail Co. "There is sound reasoning behind when each is appropriate."

Both methods cool your drink and dilute the alcohol just slightly for an easier drinking experience. But shaking aerates and "emulsifies" a cocktail -- important for most drinks containing fresh citrus, dairy or eggs, which need a proper blending to really work. For the aforementioned "spirit forward" drinks (cocktails that contain a mixture of different alcohols with no "mixers" involved), shaking is not necessary, and can negatively impact the look and sometimes even the taste of the cocktail. With that in mind, here are five drinks that you can ruin by shaking and ought to stir, and two we enjoy finger stirring.

Sazerac: (whisky or Cognac, simple syrup, bitters, absinthe rinse)
"Shaking a Sazerac or an Old Fashioned aerates the tannin component of aged brown spirits like whisky or Cognac, and leaves a thin, frothy and dilapidated cocktail that sacrifices the silky mouthfeel that stirring maintains," says Stemmler. In essence, all the bitter, earthy stuff the booze extracted from the wood barrels originally to round out the spirit is now sitting at the top of your glass like sludge.
With classic cocktails consisting of one or more spirits, fortified wines (like vermouth), bitters and/or liqueurs only, place the ingredients in a large mixing glass filled with quality ice cubes (or, better, cracked cubes). Stir well with a bar spoon -- fast but not frantic, and for about 30-50 seconds. Ideally your wrist and arm don't move during the process. Don't stir too long, as you'll risk over-dilution (this is why professional bartenders make the big bucks).

Bellini: (pureed peach juice, Champagne)

It may seem obvious, but any drink with a sparkling component requires at least some stirring, as shaking a carbonated beverage will usually end badly. With more complex cocktails, some ingredients may require shaking before being topped with sparkling wine or soda. With a simpler drink, like a Whisky Highball or Bellini, the act of pouring the sparkling component into the glass does much of the mixing. In either case, two or three gentle stirs with a barspoon or straw help ensure the drink is uniformly blended, the bubbles invigorated.

Mojito: (rum, mint leaves, lime, sugar, soda)

This is one of many "built" drinks that receive a quick stir. Built drinks are constructed in the glass from which you'll enjoy the finished product, rather than in a separate shaker or mixing glass. Why? First, rather than straining out solids, you actually want them in the drink. You want the texture and the oils of the sugar and mint. Second, because a drink full of suspended mint leaves is all that more visually awesome as you sit beside the rooftop pool. Build this drink carefully. Lightly muddled mint and sugar are the foundation. Limes (again muddled) are the infrastructure. And ice, rum and soda complete a thing of beauty. Stir deftly to bring the mint leaves up through the body of the drink.

Martini: (gin, vermouth)
  Movie Bond got it wrong. (Book Bond was asking for a shaken Vesper. Different drink.) A real martini should be stirred, not shaken. "When all your ingredients are clear, you stir because you want your cocktail to sparkle like a diamond," not end up opaque and cloudy, according to Seattle's Jamie Boudreau, owner of Canon Whisky and Bitters Emporium. Or, as author Somerset Maugham once wrote, "A martini should always be stirred, not shaken, so that the molecules lie sensuously on top of one another." As for apple martinis and other imposters, as Daniel Craig's Bond said in Casino Royale, "Do I look like I give a damn?"

White Russian: (vodka, Kahlua, milk or half-and-half)

  This, like a Tequila Sunrise and many 1980s party shots, is a layered drink. You want to see the artistry of the "float" (in this case dairy), before combining the ingredients with little red straws at your table. With layered drinks, it's important to pour them in order of relative densities so the least dense ingredients end up on top. In this case, ice, vodka, Kahlua, milk. Stir briefly, sip and pontificate. The Dude abides. 

In Praise Of The Finger Stir

There's a simple, Paleolithic pleasure in stirring a Black or White Russian with your index finger, then sucking the sweetened digit clean. It's relaxed. It says you're done for the day and needn't be bothered with life's little rules. Most of us wouldn't try and get away with that when pouring for others, but author and legendary bartender Gaz Regan has taken to making a point of finger-stirring his Negronis. The blend of gin, sweet vermouth and Campari is often stirred, sometimes shaken and occasionally "thrown" from glass to glass. For Regan -- currently slinging drinks at Manhattan's highly touted The Dead Rabbit -- giving guests the finger "always puts a smile on their faces. Always. And that's a big part of the bartender's job, right? Making his or her customer happy."

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