Shaken or Stirred

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In the comment section of the previous post, a commenter inquired why I insist my Manhattan be stirred, rather than shaken. It's a good question and deserves a good answer.

I prefer my Manhattan clear, not overly chilled and void of ice chips. This is what results from stirring, rather than shaking.

The debate over what is a "proper" Manhattan is one that is usually had between folks who tend to like to measure appendages, the distances fluids can be shot and who like to argue in general. The fact is, the idea of "proper" doesn't come into a discussion of preference.

The Manhattan is one thing at base: A whiskey (Rye, traditionally, but today usually bourbon), bitters and vermouth. This is what makes a Manhattan a Manhattan. One might call out rye or bourbon and one might ask for a dry or sweet vermouth and one might ask for a slight rinse of cherry juice. But inhe end, you are going to get a concoction of whiskey, vermouth and bitters.

But then there is the method of mixing. It makes a difference. Putting these three ingredients in a cocktail shaker, then shaking them together will certainly blend them. However, the result will be something of a more frothy, rather than clear, appearance than if simply stirred. Frothy vs. Clear is a matter of preference.

In addition, the shaken Manhattan will usually be colder than the stirred Manhattan. I find that the colder this cocktail is the less flavor and aroma one is exposed to. I like the aroma of bourbon and a Manhattan. Yet, I still like it chilled. So, for me, stirring delivers the right level of chill to the cocktail, while the shaking tends to over chill the drink.

Shaking the ice-cooled cocktail will also often result in broken ice, which in turn can often deliver small ice chips into the drink. Ice chips create a different consistency to the Manhattan that I don't prefer. So, again, stirring, is my preference as it it rarely, if done with care, breaks up the cups and produces chips in the glass. Those chips will also eventually melt and dilute my cocktail. Again, not my preference.

I don't get upset or indignant when I hear someone order their Manhattan James Bond Style. I simply presume they want their drink delivered in a particular condition, just as I do. However, I do expect a good mixologist, if given the simple order of, say, "A Makers Mark Manhattan up", to build the drink with a stir and not a shake. Nevertheless, if the person behind the bar does not know me and my proclivities, I'll usually tell them, "Stirred, Not shaken," just to make sure I get what I want.


6 Responses

  1. Benito - March 30, 2009

    I’ve got a jar of maraschino cherries from which I poured out the red syrup and replaced it with Maker’s Mark. It’s only been curing for a couple of days but already the flavor is incredible. Great on ice cream, too.
    After lots of experimenting, I’ve come to enjoy the combination of Maker’s Mark, Noilly Prat Red Vermouth, and whatever bitters I’m in the mood for (I’ve got 10 different bottles). Cherry bitters are great if you don’t have any cherries, and orange bitters are probably a great standard. Peychaud’s bitters give it a slight medicinal edge.

  2. kevin shea - March 30, 2009

    tom why mess with best, next time try it pure stirred or shaken theres enough in it alone i call it the kentucky skinny dip

  3. Jeff - March 30, 2009

    “measure appendages …”
    Very humorous … I think I’ve met that guy before.

  4. Dylan - March 30, 2009

    And, that commenter would be me. Thanks very much for the detailed response, Tom. I know there’s no right or wrong answer per sé, but there are a set of pros and cons which help define that preference–thanks for taking the time to explain the reasoning behind your own.

  5. Big C - March 31, 2009

    Just recently started enjoyed Maker’s Manhattans. Usually take it straight on the rocks. Hope you can make it to the Makers Mark Ambassadors Homecoming Sat., April 11. Become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador (it’s free!) and enjoy it and other Ambassador events. Maker’s Mark Distillery is located just outside historic downtown Lebanon, the geographic center of the state and true Heart of Kentucky. Come feel the beat! Learn more about Maker’s Mark and get easy, detailed directions to the distillery at

  6. Thomas Pellechia - March 31, 2009

    “Those chips will also eventually melt and dilute my cocktail.”
    In my view, ice should never be inside the glass for the above reason.
    Just serve the drink in a pre-chilled glass. I do that with iced tea, too.
    Ice–as chips or not–melts and dilutes.

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