The Art of the Shake

By Ian Wickman   |   November 30, 2021

There is something unmistakable about the sound of ice and a cocktail in the making. It is a delicate dance, a shaking tin that makes sweet music so full of promise. So, let’s shake up something festive for the holidays!

The Inspiration

The Pom Pom Fling

For a perfect sip before your holiday meal, I chose a simple, lower alcohol cocktail. I wanted to use some of my favorite ingredients, including pomegranate, that beautiful red fruit that starts popping up everywhere around Montecito this time of year. I chose an Amontillado Sherry base which tastes of dried fruit and nuts. Then I added local vermouth with rich botanicals. A bit of pomegranate imparts festive color and a delightful flavor, a dash of bitters for layers of spice, and all finished with a touch of orange oils for beautiful brightness.

If you’re not familiar with vermouth, it is a fortified wine infused with botanicals to increase the layers of flavor. The vermouth I chose is from T.W. Hollister & Co, which was started by locals Clinton and Ashley Hollister. Their family has a long history in the area, and they source many of their botanicals from the family homestead in the eponymous Hollister Ranch. In addition to hyper-local botanicals, I love that their red vermouth is only lightly sweet compared to other brands. This opens so many more options when designing cocktails that use it.

The Technique

How do you know which cocktails to shake and which to stir? A general rule of thumb is anything with cloudy ingredients (e.g. citrus, juice, cream, etc.) goes in a shaker. Anything with only clear ingredients is more commonly stirred. Why? The main difference is in the aeration. With shaking you want to incorporate texture and tiny air bubbles and create a suspension of these cocktail ingredients. This gives a better mouthfeel and taste as it rolls across your tastebuds.

The Tools

There are several different types of cocktail shakers, but the two most common types of shakers are the cobbler shaker and Boston shaker.

There are several different types of cocktail shakers, but the two most common types of shakers are the cobbler shaker and Boston shaker. The cobbler shaker is what you typically find at culinary stores and has three pieces, including a built-in strainer. A Boston shaker is what you would find in most bars and has two pieces, a larger and smaller tin. This requires a separate strainer, typically a Hawthorne strainer. My personal preference is a Boston shaker. It tends to seal more tightly, creating less chance for a spill, and doesn’t stick shut as easily. I often use a secondary fine mesh strainer to catch little bits of pulp or ice from the shaker. This is referred to as double straining.

The Details

The goal of shaking a cocktail is to combine, chill, dilute, and aerate, which achieves the beautiful texture and icy cold delight of a well-crafted cocktail. The steps for a proper shake are pretty simple: First, add all the ingredients to the shaking tin, and then add the ice. Use a lot of ice, fill up a Boston shaker, or about 3/4 of a cobbler shaker. Put the pieces together and give it a firm tap on top with the heel of your palm to ensure a nice tight seal. A Boston shaker should have the smaller tin placed on top of the larger tin and it will be angled to the side slightly when sealed properly. Proceed to shake for the appropriate amount of time as given in the recipe, typically about 10 to 15 seconds. The best shake isn’t straight up and down, but on its side, and shaken forward and backward more horizontal to the ground. You should hear and feel the clink of the ice as it hits the top and bottom of the shaker. Make sure you have a firm grasp of both/all parts of the shaker, smaller parts toward yourself.

The type and size of ice you use and the length of time you shake dictates how cold, how diluted, and the texture of the finished cocktail. The larger the cube, the less dilution and more aeration you will get. If you shake with crushed ice, you will get much more dilution, more quickly, and less air. If you shake with one or two large cubes you will get a lot of air and less dilution. I generally shake with normal-sized ice cubes or a large cube with one or two smaller cubes inside. I encourage you to try this with your cocktails at home. Use the same ingredients, but try shaking your cocktail with different sizes of ice for shorter or longer, and then taste them and note the differences.

A final point, never shake carbonated ingredients. The gas will expand in the tin and cause it to pop open and spill. Don’t worry, we’ve all made a mess at some point!

Pom Pom Fling

2 1/2 oz Amontillado Sherry (Lustau)
3/4 oz T.W. Hollister Red Vermouth
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
1/2 oz true grenadine (sweetened pomegranate syrup)
Light dash Angostura Bitters
Garnish: 1 piece of orange zest and a dehydrated orange wheel


Add all the ingredients except the citrus peel and garnish to a shaking tin. Add a large cube and two small cubes of ice to the shaker. Shake short, about 5 to 10 seconds to chill, and lightly dilute. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a chilled coupe. Gently squeeze the orange peel over the top of the drink to express the oils.Garnish with a dehydrated orange wheel.


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