“The Manhattan should be prepared by stirring,” Albert Schmid says in his book dedicated to this cocktail. “Shaking the combination of ingredients produces a drink that is cloudy and foams across the top. Stirring preserves a transparent drink and allows the consumer visual as well as gastronomic pleasure.”
Nothing has caused more controversy in our months-long Manhattan study thus far. We began shaking our Manhattans because that’s how I had always done it at home and that is how the earliest recipe we have found says to do it. Little did we know we would create such uproar.
Many of those who left comments on the blog and on social media are professional bartenders who believe firmly in Schmid’s philosophy.
I reached out to Bourbon Blog Mixologist Stephen Dennison, who had this to say: “You always stir drinks with clear ingredients so that the base spirit expresses itself. [Stirring] adds water and more importantly it oxidizes the drink. The same thing holds true in wine. It’s good in some cases, but in the Manhattan not so much so.”
With all the outcry over this seemingly critical step, Rosemary and I were quite sure we would have an “aha!” moment during this part of the study. We did have an “aha!” moment, but not quite the one we thought we would have.
We set up all the tools and ingredients as always on my kitchen counter. I made one drink with stirring and one drink with shaking and we set about comparing the two.
Stirring produced a creamier mouth feel and the end product was slightly less bitter than the shaken version. There were more fruity notes and a longer finish and the whiskey was more pronounced. These are all great qualities in a Manhattan.
The shaken cocktail had a lighter mouth feel but it wasn’t bad. It was slightly more bitter, but it’s not something you would necessarily notice if you weren’t trying the two side by side. As it sat the bitterness faded into a nice spiciness.
Overall, what we found was that there were marked differences but nothing that would make or break the cocktail. We wouldn’t have sent either of these drinks back and we enjoyed them both almost equally.
Our conclusion was that using the best ingredients helps to build a fabulous cocktail that isn’t negatively affected by changing one part of the process. In other words, the process is less important when the rest of the recipe can hold its own.
“Although there is a marked difference, both drinks were so good because we were using an excellent rye and the best vermouth. There is not a salient difference between shaking and stirring the best ingredients,” says Rosemary Miller. “If you are using a well bourbon or rye these steps would make a greater difference.”
As to the question of foaminess, we accidentally solved this in the process. Rosemary had a foamy drink once that we accidentally recreated – with Fee Brothers bitters. Fee Brothers bitters are glycerine based, a plant derived fat that is also used in soap. There’s nothing wrong with glycerine based bitters and Fee Brothers offers a wide variety. But based on the way it behaves when shaken in a cocktail, we believe that this is the foaming component of the cocktail when shaken. Alcohol based bitters have not produced foaminess in our study so far. We will be studying bitters further in our next study, so stay tuned!
Rosemary Miller also contributed to this article.
Photos and screen shots courtesy of Maggie Kimberl.