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Embarrassed to even ask this – stirring?


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So the cocktail aficionado in me is utterly ashamed to be asking this, but why the hell can't I get my stirred drinks cold enough? I use either cubed or cracked ice, and stir for quite a long while, and the drink ends up cool but not nearly as cold as when shaken or swizzled with crushed ice. If I stir for longer, it gets a bit colder, but gets too diluted. If I recall correctly, Sam or someone on here once mentioned that stirring with cracked ice can actually get even colder than shaking, but never for me....

This was really highlighted when I made some El Presidentes last night and they only had the merest chill on them despite pretty thorough stirring.

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To be able to understand the situation, you must also measure the temperature of the ice first. Ice can be any temperature from 0C to - almost absolute zero.

With a given mixture composition of alcohol + water, the temperature will be the same regardless of methods of stirring or shaking, if the ice temperature is the same.

dcarch

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Hassouni,

It's an older article, but here's Part 1 of a great primer on ice in cocktails, from Cooking Issues. I can sum it up for you pretty quickly:

1. The starting temperature of your ice doesn't matter that much.

2. Stirring vs. shaking doesn't matter that much, other than the time it takes to hit a certain temperature.

3. Chilling mainly comes from ice phase changing into water versus ice going from freezer temperature to 0 degrees.

So - chilling your cocktail is all about the dilution of the cocktail. Swizzles and tiny bits of ice are just quicker than huge Tovolo cubes and stirring.

Thanks,

Zachary

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"----1. The starting temperature of your ice doesn't matter that much.---"

​I agree. I mentioned ice cube temperature because I am not a drinker. I have no idea about the alcohol contain of the drink. Alcohol can lower the freezing temperature, or melt the ice faster.

dcarch

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Stirring is a more difficult technique than shaking, because there are many more variables (more on which anon).

Zachary is correct that starting with lower temperature ice won't make much of a difference in the final temperature of the drink. This is because most of the cooling power of ice comes from melting, due to the heat of fusion. In short, phase change takes a lot more thermal energy than heating a piece of ice the same number of degrees without phase change. That said, I do think it is valuable to have your ice substantially below freezing temperature. This is because very cold ice has dry surfaces, whereas ice in the neighborhood of 0C has wet surfaces. The wetness on the surface of ~0C ice is already-melted water that increases dilution of the drink without contributing to chilling. Especially in a stirred drink, we want all our dilution to contribute to chilling.

Anyway, to the variables . . . If your goal is to get a stirred drink as cold as possible, the important variables IMO are:

1. The starting temperature of the liquids. This will almost always be room temperature, but it's worth considering that one of the most effective ways to get a colder stirred drink is to pre-chill the liquids. I store all my aromatized wines in in the refrigerator, so when making a stirred drink with one of these ingredients I am already starting out ahead of the game.

2. The temperature of the ice. As above, this is really only important insofar as it effects dilution.

3. The size of the ice. Since the ingredients are moving around much more slowly compared to shaking, this reduces the efficiency of the thermal exchange between the ice and the liquid. In short, the drink chills more slowly. One way to make this go faster is to increase the surface area-to-mass ratio of the ice in order to create more places where the liquid can transfer thermal energy into the ice. We do this by cracking the ice into smaller pieces. The starting temperature of the ice becomes pretty important when we do this, however, because greatly increasing the surface area of ~0C ice will also greatly increase the amount of already-melted water that gets into the drink and doesn't help with chilling.

4. The ratio of ice to liquid. More ice (up to a point) will bring more chilling power to the drink. Especially if there is a lot of ice in small pieces, there is a chance to approach or reach thermal equilibrium in a reasonable amount of time.

5. The size, materials and temperature of the stirring vessel. If the stirring vessel will be room temperature, we would like for it to have a very small heat capacity so that very little thermal energy is transferred into the liquid from the stirring vessel. This suggests thin metal or very thin glass. If, on the other hand, the stirring vessel will be significantly chilled, we would like for it to have a very large heat capacity so that thermal energy is transferred into the stirring vessel from the liquid. This suggests thick glass.

6. The size, materials and temperature of the glass. Similar to the above, a well-chilled and heavy glass can lower the temperature of a cocktail by a degree or two and help keep it cold for a longer period of time. If the glass will be room temperature, we would like for it to be as thin as possible to minimize the heating effect on the cocktail.

7. Stirring speed and length of time. The faster the cocktail is stirred, the more the contents of the mixing vessel are agitated and the faster the thermal exchange between the ice and liquid. Similarly, the longer you stir, the more thermal exchange takes place.

8. The starting proof of the liquid. The higher the proof, the lower the equilibrium temperature can be.

Nos. 3 and 7 really only affect the speed of chilling. But assuming that you're not willing to stir forever, they will make a difference on the final temperature of the drink.

So . . . Let's say you want to make a "Fitty Fitty" style Martini and you want it to be very cold, just apply this knowledge: Pull a large, thick glass mixing vessel out of the freezer and fill it with nice dry cracked ice from the freezer. In goes some Tanqueray (high proof gin) from the cupboard, an equal amount of vermouth from the refrigerator and a dash of orange bitters. This all gets stirred a good long time, strained into a frozen cocktail glass and garnished with a thin twist. The result should be a very cold drink indeed.

--

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Sam and everyone else, very interesting posts.

I should describe my setup:

I use the standard glass part of a Boston shaker (aka pint glass) for stirring. However, I don't keep it in the freezer.

The ice I use is made by my fridge's icemaker (which I know is not ideal, but it is very cold), however, I crack the ice once out of the freezer, so yes, I suppose it's not as dry and cold anymore). Sometimes I don't crack the ice.

Vermouths, syrups, etc, are kept in the fridge.

I add ingredients to the glass, add ice to nearly fill the glass, and stir fairly fast.

So it sounds like I should have smaller ice straight from the freezer, and chill my mixing glass, or use the unchilled shaker tin?

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Out of curiosity, have you actually measured the temperatures of your shaken and stirred drinks? I'm not sure how it would work, but I'm wondering if it's a perceptual difference, rather than an objective one.

Also, do you chill the glassware you're drinking from?

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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I have not measured, but it's so drastically different than it can't be all in the head. I can measure next time, but I doubt I'll see any surprises.

I do chill my cocktail glasses, but the glass is so thin that I don't think it makes a huge impact.

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"I have not measured, but it's so drastically different than it can't be all in the head.--"

Perception: If you had a very cold drink before, any drink after that will not appear to be very cold. The opposite is true also.

dcarch

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use the standard glass part of a Boston shaker (aka pint glass) for stirring. However, I don't keep it in the freezer. . . . Sometimes I don't crack the ice. . . . I add ingredients to the glass, add ice to nearly fill the glass, and stir fairly fast.

Well, there are your problems right there. Freeze the pint glass or (not quite as good) use the metal part. Crack the ice and put as much in there as you can (smaller pieces also means you can fit more ice in there). There should be no large voids between pieces of ice, and there should also be no "un-iced" liquid either below or above the ice. Keep in mind that a pint glass really is only big enough to make one drink, so if you're making two at a time in one glass there is no way you're going to get the chilling you're after.

--

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use the standard glass part of a Boston shaker (aka pint glass) for stirring. However, I don't keep it in the freezer. . . . Sometimes I don't crack the ice. . . . I add ingredients to the glass, add ice to nearly fill the glass, and stir fairly fast.

Well, there are your problems right there. Freeze the pint glass or (not quite as good) use the metal part. Crack the ice and put as much in there as you can (smaller pieces also means you can fit more ice in there). There should be no large voids between pieces of ice, and there should also be no "un-iced" liquid either below or above the ice. Keep in mind that a pint glass really is only big enough to make one drink, so if you're making two at a time in one glass there is no way you're going to get the chilling you're after.

Aha that may have something to do with it - I was making two drinks

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Right. Assuming you're starting with 3 ounces of liquid in each drink, two drinks at a time gives you 6 ounces of booze and maybe 9 ounces of ice in a warm glass. 2:3 is not such a great ratio of booze to ice if you want a really cold drink. If you're making drinks with a bigger pour, you're stacking the thermal deck against yourself even more.

--

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I might think that, when shaken, the drink can be moved over a relatively large amount of ice quite rapidly. If a smaller amount of ice is submerged while stirring, the heat transfer to the ice is slower and there is more time for additional heat to be picked up from the environment.

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Is there any container I can use to stir more than 1 drink effectively? I don't want to spend $40+ shipping on a Yarai mixer at this point...

Yeah, buy some Pyrex lab measuring beakers. I'm sure you can get a litre version for next to nothing

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Hassouni,

I've found 6 inch tall cut glass milk or juice pitchers like this one at thrift stores for around $10. They're a good size and hold enough to make 2 drinks.

Thanks,

Zachary

I was going to suggest checking out thrift stores as well. It should not be too hard to find a suitable glass pitcher there.
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keep in mind that starting dilution of the drink matters a little bit as well.

Here's how it would look in theory:

199_mass_fraction_regression-460x215.jpg

And here are the experimental results:

202_ABV_experimental-460x102.jpg

Also, my rules of thumb for shaking vs stirring:

63_shaking_vs_stirring-460x141.jpg

(high-res files are at http://craftcocktailsathome.com/charts-and-graphics/)

The thing to remember about stirring is that to reach the minimum theoretical equilibrium temperature, you would need to stir for 2 minutes or more (as Dave Arnold has shown). Unless you're stirring in a perfectly insulated container, the drink will warm up a few degrees in that time.

Another idea: to get stirred drinks *really* cold, you could toss stir in a few artificial ice cubes (the plastic ones with water inside, or even better the Slushie magic ones with salt water inside). These will allow more chilling with less dilution, though the final equilibrium temperature will always be limited by ABV.

Hope that helps.

I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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In the link Zachary posted, the graph of bar versus freezer ice is with -15*C ice of unspecified quantity, and does not specify the final dilution. At home, my ice is -10*F (-23*C), and I use a helluvalot of it. I also serve in a -10*F glass, usually with a large fresh -10*F cube. I take things out of the freezer at the last minute.

I also think that the effect of surface water on wet bar ice is understated. I think there is a LOT of water there, and using more ice gives you more water. This is not true of cold freezer ice. Using more allows more chilling before melting begins.

The combination of these effects is not so much to achieve a lower final temperature, but less final dilution -- or rather more control over the final ABV.

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