Bartending Techniques Part 3: Short Shaking and Dry Shaking

You may be wondering why we need two separate posts to cover what is, after all, a fairly simple procedure. While the methods described in the previous post will be all you need for the vast majority of cocktails, some of the best cocktails out there, such as swizzles, flips, and egg white cocktails require a different take on the shake. This post will cover short shaking and dry shaking.

Short Shaking

There is nothing complex about a short shake, it's simply shaking your cocktail for much less time than normal with the goal of mixing and chilling without a lot of dilution. It's usually used for making cocktails that are served with crushed ice. As we discussed in the post on ice, speed of dilution is dependent on many factors but one of the main ones is the surface area of ice exposed to a higher temperature liquid. Crushed ice will dilute and chill a drink much more readily than a single giant ice ball will.

So when a cocktail served with crushed ice is shaken, you don't want it to be fully diluted in the shaker tin or it will be overdiluted by the time the glass gets to its intended imbiber. The solution is to shake the cocktail only briefly, around two to four seconds depending on the drink, the ice you are using, and your shaking method. I like to pack my shaker tin as full as possible with ice1 when I short shake, this allows the maximum amount of liquid to get into contact with the cold ice but also limits the amount of ice breakup that occurs because the ice doesn't have as much room to rattle around.

You are aiming to completely mix and homogenize the ingredients while providing a bit of chilling and very little (less than 50% complete) dilution. Once your short shake is finished, immediately strain it into the serving glass, pack with crushed ice and any other liquid ingredients you didn't have in the shaker tin (i.e. soda water), garnish, and serve.

I always short shake my swizzles, even though they don't technically call for it. I think shaking better incorporates ingredients than swizzling does. Some other cocktails that benefit from a short shake are the Mai Tai and the Kitty Hawk Express.

Dry Shaking

As we've discussed2, eggs and booze have a long history together. Egg yolk adds flavor and richness to cocktails, think egg nog or the New York Flip. Egg whites add a silky texture and frothy head to drinks, examples include the Pisco Sour and Trinidad Sour. Most, but not all, egg cocktails benefit from a procedure called the dry shake.

Dry shaking is shaking a flip or an egg white cocktail without ice. The purpose is to incorporate the ingredients and allow the proteins in the egg white to break down and do their work trapping air to create the smooth, velvety texture that egg cocktails are known for. The process takes time so dry shaking before adding ice keeps the drink from over-diluting. Dry shaking adds another step to the drink's preparation but you can shorten the shake time considerably by adding a wire whisk ball or the spring from an old Hawthorne Strainer to your shaker tin.

Scientifically speaking, there are some interesting things happening inside your shaking tin when you dry shake an egg white. If you're a baker and have ever made a meringue before, you know the result. Here, we're making an alcoholic meringue by shaking in a tin instead of whipping in a bowl. As you shake, the egg white becomes agitated, causing the proteins to break down and unravel, forming long strands that trap air bubbles. The citrus juice in the cocktail strengthens the molecular bonds between protein molecules allowing the trapped air bubbles to link up to form a stiff foam. The sugar in the cocktail also plays its part, increasing the viscosity of the water in the egg, which also encourages the foam to form.

A dry shake with a wire whisk ball need only last fifteen to thirty seconds, depending on your shaking method. After which you simply pack the tin with ice as you normally would and shake again to chill and dilute. The longer you dry shake, the stiffer your alcoholic meringue will be, but for most cocktails, you're not trying for a stiff foam but a velvety one, so no need to shake your arms off. The exception is the Ramos Gin Fizz, for this classic cocktail to work, a fairly stiff foam is needed. Even with my shaker ball, I routinely shake a Ramos Fizz for at least three minutes.

Short shaking and dry shaking are two simple additions to your arsenal of techniques that will help you make some of the best cocktails in the books with precision and perfection. Happy mixing!


1 Just a quick note to avoid any confusion, never shake with crushed ice. The drink is served with crushed ice but always shake with the densest, highest quality ice you have.

2 Check out this post to learn more about using eggs in cocktials.