The great martini debate: stirring rides current wave of support

January 16, 2008|By Charles Perry | Charles Perry,Los Angeles Times

The making of a martini raises so many alluring questions: Does shaking spoil the taste of the martini? Does stirring get the drink cold enough? Should the bartender put on an exciting show, or should he mix with masterly nonchalance?

For a century or more, the shake-or-stir debate has raged among martini drinkers. But lately it seems that the current is running strongly in the stirring direction.

Shaking has had its recent vogue. In the last several years, Tokyo has become a center for cutting-edge mixology. Tokyo bartenders have developed a unique style of mixing that involves shaking the cocktail very vigorously, back and forth as well as up and down. Many Americans have been impressed with the Japanese method. But some are coming around to stirring.

"When I was in Tokyo, I liked the way Japanese bartenders would shake martinis," says David Myers, owner of Sona in Hollywood and Comme Ca in West Hollywood, Calif., "but Sammy [consulting bartender Sam Ross] has converted me. He says stirring blends the alcohols better. Instead of a rapid shake, which emulsifies, there's just a delicate blending."

The difference sounds a little obscure, and so does the conventional explanation that shaking "bruises the gin." Still, stir-ophiles clearly feel that shaking does some kind of harm to the drink. To some, it's that the liquor is diluted with ice water. Others may be thinking of the faintly cloudy look of a shaken martini.

Why does shaking make a drink cloudy? Cocktail expert Gary Regan says in The Joy of Mixology that a shaken drink is colder, so some compounds in the vermouth may emerge from solution and form tiny droplets, a phenomenon known as chill haze.

David Wondrich, author of the cocktail history Imbibe!, offers another explanation: "Shaking introduces a plethora of tiny bubbles that disrupt the silken, thick texture that results from stirring."

Among bartenders it is a settled conclusion that shaking is the only way to mix cocktails containing ingredients that are hard to mix with liquor, such as eggs, dairy products and fruit juices. The question is whether shaking is wrong for other kinds of drinks, in particular the martini.

It's guaranteed to get the drink good and cold. "Most people want a martini to be cold, so we shake," says bartender Mark Sandstrom of Nic's Martini Lounge in Beverly Hills, Calif.

At the Grill on the Alley in Beverly Hills, director of beverage Arthur Meola says, "Our house practice is to stir vigorously. We use the bar spoon appropriately, so that it gets a vertical as well as a circular motion."

Back in the '80s, there was a revival of flashy mixing techniques, but nearly 20 years have passed since the Tom Cruise movie Cocktail, and elegance seems to have made a comeback.

So maybe it's time to chill. The times, they apparently are a-stirring.

Charles Perry writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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