How To Use A Cocktail Shaker (Useful Guide)

how to use a cocktail shaker
Joe | Last Updated: November 24, 2023
I'm Joe, a veteran bartender with over a decade in the industry and a burning passion for mixing drinks.

The bartending industry is full of exciting tools that often confuse people at first glance, with the cocktail shaker being one of them.

Whether you’re looking to impress your friends at your home bar by whipping up some exotic cocktails or you’re simply looking to up your game at work, learning to master the cocktail shaker is a sure way to do both.

A cocktail shaker is an important tool in any bartender’s arsenal as it allows them to mix alcoholic drinks that need to be shaken, typically with ice.

In this post, we’re going to teach you how to use a cocktail shaker so that the next time you find yourself mixing up some cocktails, you’re full of confidence and know exactly what you’re doing.

Let’s get into it…

What’s The Purpose Of A Cocktail Shaker?

If you’ve ever been to a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol then you’ve likely witnessed the bartender using a cocktail shaker to create alcoholic drinks.

Shaking cocktails with a shaker and ice mixes, dilutes and chills the drink so that it’s nice and cool before being served to a customer.

The shaker lowers the temperature of the drink much faster than stirring would due to the ingredients being repeatedly exposed to the surface area of the ice over and over again.

The cocktail shaker is a must-have piece of equipment for any bar or restaurant. Not only does it look cool and exciting when it’s being used, but it’s highly effective at mixing and chilling drinks.

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When To Use A Cocktail Shaker vs Mixing Glass

A cocktail shaker is not needed to make every type of cocktail, and instead should only be used when mixing drinks that contain both juice and alcohol, or cream, eggs, and other dairy products.

Cocktail shakers are only needed when mixing together ingredients that wouldn’t mix together well if stirred, such as alcohol, juices, and syrups.

You shouldn’t use a cocktail shaker when mixing drinks that contain only spirits, such as Martinis and Old-Fashioneds, instead, you can stir these ingredients without a shaker.

Many people use a mixing glass for this or even use the tumbler part of a cocktail shaker to stir these ingredients, whichever you prefer.

How To Use A Cocktail Shaker

You’ll be glad to know that using a cocktail shaker to mix together ingredients isn’t rocket science, and after a few attempts to perfect your technique, you’ll be well on your way to whipping up some impressive cocktails.

Mudde first

But before you even touch the cocktail shaker you’ll want to go over the ingredients you’ll need to create that drink.

muddler for cocktails
Photo by Andrey Trush on Unsplash

If you creating a cocktail that requires muddling, you’ll want to do this first before proceeding to add other ingredients to the cocktail shaker.

To muddle, follow these steps:

  1. Add the ingredients to the tumbler part of the cocktail shaker
  2. Add the sweet element. This could be syrup, herbs, fruit, sugar, and anything else that adds to the cocktail.
  3. Grab your long-handled muddler and begin to press in a circular motion, helping to mix up the ingredients.
  4. After muddling, you can proceed to add other ingredients to the shaker.

Measure ingredients

Next, grab your jigger and begin measuring out the liquid ingredients before pouring them into the cocktail shaker on top of your muddled ingredients.

Most jiggers are double-sided with measurements such as 1½ ounce, and 1 ounce/2 ounce. Familiarize yourself with the measurements of your jigger so that you don’t need to look every time you pour.

The small side of the jigger is 1 shot and the big side is 2 shots, this is important when pouring alcohol as you don’t want to go overboard and end up with a cocktail that is far too strong.

cocktail jigger
Image by Didriks via Flickr

Experienced bartenders may skip using a jigger and instead time their pour. With experience, bartenders can time their pour to be more efficient at adding ingredients, this helps them when bars are busy and time is of the essence.

If you are just starting out, I wouldn’t recommend this and would stick to using the jigger.

Add Ice

Once all of your measured and muddled ingredients have been added to the cocktail shaker, it’s time to fill the shaker 1/2 or 3/4 full with ice.

It’s best to use ice cubes as opposed to crushed ice as they will not melt as quickly and won’t dilute the cocktail as much.

Seal the cocktail shaker

Place on the lid of the shaker and give it a firm tap with the base of your hand to ensure it’s secured tightly and no ingredients will spill out.

Shake well

Hold the shaker firm with one hand at the bottom and begin to shake vigorously for a count of between 15 – 20 seconds.

There’s a technique to this that may take some getting used to, but in essence, you want to hold the shaker firm at the bottom then shake and roll so that all of the ingredients are being mixed well with the ice.

Strain & pour

Once you’ve given the cocktail shaker a good shake, set it back down on the bar with the tumbler side facing down.

Remove the cap that you previously added and now you can begin to strain the drink. How you do this will depend on the type of shaker you’re using.

If you’re using a cobbler shaker, you can simply remove the lid and begin pouring as these have a built-in strainer that helps separate the ingredients from the ice.

cocktail strainer
Image by Chris C via Flickr

If not, you’ll want to reach for your cocktail strainer and place this around the rim of the cocktail shaker with the spring side facing down into the ingredients.

Hold the strainer firmly in place and pour out the liquid into the glass, then add your fizzy element and garnish as required.

Voila! You’ve got yourself a cocktail to enjoy!

If you are curious and want to learn more about cocktail shakers, check it this amazing video from our brand partners ABarAbove below;

How To Dry Shake A Cocktail

If you find yourself creating a cocktail that uses egg whites as an ingredient, such as a Ramos Gin Fizz, you’ll need to dry shake the cocktail.

To do this, simply repeat the steps set out above, but DO NOT add any ice to the shaker.

Dry shaking ensures that the egg combines with the other ingredients properly and creates a frothy texture that is used in some cocktail recipes.

>> Read more: 8 BEST Cocktail Shakers For Bartenders

How Do You Shake A Cocktail With A Shaker?

The truth is, there is no right way to shake a cocktail, and every bartender will have their own personal method when it comes to using the cocktail shaker.

In my experience, I’ve found that using bigger ice cubes helps with mixing the ingredients in the shaker, so I recommend finding the biggest cubes you can before shaking.

The aim is to shake the cocktail in a way that ensures the large cubes smash together with the ingredients at the other end of the shaker.

You can do this by holding the shaker over your shoulder and creating a flick motion with a nice rhythm. You’ll want to put some force behind it but ensure you’re feeling the ice clatter against the other end of the shaker.

Let the ice do the work, you don’t want to injure yourself but you also don’t want a half-mixed cocktail that is lukewarm.

As you gain some experience with this, you’ll perfect your method and will be able to add an element of flair to entertain your guests when you feel like it.

Do You Need To Put Ice In A Cocktail Shaker?

You certainly do need to put ice in a cocktail shaker before you begin shaking, it’s a fundamental that chills the drink and helps mix up the ingredients.

The only time you don’t need to use ice in a cocktail shaker is when you are dry shaking, which for most bartenders isn’t very often.

Remember, the bigger the ice cubes the better!

The Different Types Of Cocktail Shakers

Not all cocktail shakers are the same, and depending on what bar you find yourself in you may encounter different types of cocktail shakers.

As a bartender, you should ensure that you’re competent at using any type of cocktail shaker, but if you’re simply looking to make cocktails in your home bar then personal preference will play a big role in which shaker you choose.

Let’s take a look at the three main types of cocktail shakers.

Cobbler shaker

The cobbler shaker also known as the 3-piece shaker is the most common type of shaker you’ll find in most establishments and home bars.

This is because they are beginner friendly and very easy to use.

They include a built-in strainer which makes it easy for anyone to whip up cocktails without having to use multiple tools.

Whilst these are great for beginners, they are prone to leaking if not tightened properly and the lid and cup can sometimes freeze together which can make them difficult to open at times.

French cocktail shaker

The French cocktail shaker is very similar to the cobbler shaker, only it doesn’t have a built-in strainer.

French shakers are a little more secure than cobbler shakers which means there is less chance of ingredients leaking.

They’re very aesthetic and stand out behind any bar, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find many as they’re often hard to come by.

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Boston cocktail shaker

The Boston cocktail shaker is a classic cocktail shaker and is the preferred shaker for many professional bartenders.

It’s a more simplistic design that is comprised of a large shaker tin with a smaller tin that fits inside or simply fitting a pint glass inside instead of the smaller piece.

Whichever style you opt for, you’ll need a cocktail strainer too as this type of shaker does not have one built-in.

The main advantage of using the Boston shaker is that you can fit much more ingredients in, meaning you can create multiple cocktails at the same time which is more efficient.

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Final Thoughts

Using a cocktail shaker isn’t something to be nervous about, it’s a simple bar tool that is very easy to use and helps bartenders mix ingredients to create cocktails.

Whilst there are a couple of different types of cocktail shakers available, they are all simple once you’ve given them a go.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and now know the correct way how to use a cocktail shaker and will be more confident the next time you have to use one.

If you follow the steps set out above and remember to add ice to the mix, you can’t go far wrong.

Catch you in the next one!

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