When I interviewed Josh Burbank of Jax Fish House last week, he had an excellent rule of thumb for bartending: "Never shake a Manhattan," he said. "Next time I see someone shake a Manhattan, I'm going to leap over the bar. That's my biggest pet peeve, for sure."
We wholeheartedly agree, but I want to add something else: Never shake a martini, either.
Denver has an incredible cocktail scene, so you'd think this was common knowledge. But in preparation for crowning a Best Martini and Best Manhattan in Best of Denver 2012, we've spent the past couple of weeks dropping into establishments all over the city drinking more than our usual fair share of these two classics. While we're disheartened that many places think three ounces of cold gin garnished with a twist constitutes a martini, we're even more annoyed by the number of bartenders -- at highly regarded bars, by the way -- SHAKING these drinks, thereby immediately disqualifying themselves from being serious contenders.
So here's our plea: Stop it.
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There's a geeky, technical reason for stirring these drinks: Booze combined with booze blends without force (unlike citrus and booze, which needs a good hard shake to mix right). But not only is vigorous shaking not necessary, it's actually ruining the drink. The martini and Manhattan are meant to have a clear appearance and a silky texture. They're supposed to be pretty and elegant. "Pretty and elegant" goes out the window as soon as you clamp your shaking tin on top of the mixing glass and start brute forcing the thing like a Neanderthal -- you're going to pour a drink that tastes thin and watery, and it's going to be frothy, cloudy and full of ice shards. This, by the way, is how we know you've done it wrong even if we can't see you mixing my drink.
But there's also a more service-oriented reason why you, the bartender, had better stir: if the patron sitting on the other side of the bar is anything like us, they're losing faith in your drink mixing abilities before even tasting your cocktails. Why? Because you're standing there furiously shaking a drink that drink aficionados know should be stirred. That's a real shame, especially if, like one bar in town, you're actually using killer ingredients in your Manhattan. Perception affects taste, and those of us with the savvy to notice these kinds of things perceive you don't know what you're doing if you can't get the classics right -- especially when we're talking the gold standard classics.
Consider the Manhattan or martini order a test. Because what happens after you blow that? Chances are good that we're going to downshift to a low faith Campari-and-soda order for our second drink and never come back to your bar, thereby missing whatever genius concoctions you've dreamed up for your list. So unless we're explicitly asking you to shake a drink that's usually stirred, please, for the love of your dead, classic cocktail-inventing forefathers, take the time to do it right.