A mixing glass for cocktails is a key fixture of any craft cocktail bar for many reasons. There are a handful of specialty cocktail wares that you can get away with not having as part of your usual arsenal, but a mixing glass is more important than you may think.
Why Stir a Cocktail?
So, why do you stir a cocktail anyway? Stirring is recommended to mix cocktails with ingredients that are a) spirit forward and b) contain ingredients of similar density.
Shaking a drink achieves a few different outcomes, such as:
- Enhanced dilution (the liquid crosses the surface area of the ice more frequently)
- Creating aeration or an emulsion (such as an egg white or aquafaba foam), and
- Marrying ingredients of varying densities (like fruit juices or muddled components).
Stirring, however, achieves two results: chill and dilution. Of course, we want our cocktails cold, and this is achieved by adding ice. However, merely popping some ice into a glass will not yield a beautifully blended and balanced drink.
Think of it this way: What do you do first after placing ice in a glass? You give it a quick swirl! This allows the surface area of the ice to interact with the liquid, enhancing the chill in the glass while simultaneously melting the ice and diluting the drink. By stirring, you also agitate the liquid less, providing a more velvety texture and clearer appearance, as opposed to shaking.
The key to crafting exceptional drinks is precision and consistency: You want to be able to recreate that beautiful Manhattan time and time again. Now you may say, “But I can just do this in my shaker tin!” You certainly can, but in order to achieve that replicability and consistency, using the right tool for the right job is key.
The Case for a Mixing Glass
1. Easier to Stir, By Design
Let’s take a look at the anatomy of a cocktail mixing glass and why its form is so important:
Sturdy & Won’t Wobble
First, the body and weighted base of the glass is a uniform cylinder, which allows the glass to sit firmly on a flat surface without wobbling while stirring. The base is designed to be thicker, thus providing a sturdy, grounded vessel that won’t move around while you stir.
Insulates your Drink
The thickness also keeps your drink insulated from the heat of your hand. If using the base of a steel shaker tin, the metal acts as an excellent conductor and the heat from the hand may cause the ice to melt more quickly.
Straight-up SidesThe sides of a mixing glass are tall and straight, which provide a constant guide for a long-handled bar spoon to follow while stirring, providing a more even, measured stir. Now, with a shaker tin, the sides are tapered down, which means the spoon will form a conical trajectory instead of an even, cylindrical one. Essentially, the bottom of the drink will be stirred more than the top, yielding an uneven chill and dilution, as well as the potential for splashing the drink up the angled sides. (See, that high school geometry does come in handy!)
That even trajectory afforded by the shape of the body of the mixing glass provides a more controlled stir, and thus yields a more consistent level of both chill and dilution, so that Negroni comes out perfectly each time. (Yes, Mr. Tucci, one must stir that Negroni!)
Handy Pour Spout
Finally, the rim and spout of the mixing glass provide the perfect fit for a Hawthorne or Julep strainer, while allowing for a clean pour into the glass from the delicate spout. No spills!
2. Add Personality and Style to Your Bar
Another benefit of the mixing glass (especially versus a metal vessel) is the ability to see what is in the glass, which is helpful for a few reasons:
- First, it allows you to stop stirring when the optimal level of dilution is reached (approximately 30 seconds of stirring, but more on that later). For dark spirits, the color of the drink will grow lighter as more dilution is achieved; for all liquors, the liquid level will rise as the ice melts, thus providing multiple visual cues to signal the drink is ready.
- Second, it provides a more visually interesting view for your customers, housemates, or whomever may be watching the cocktail-creation process.
- Finally, mixing glasses feature an array of cut glass or crystal designs that can enhance the design of your bar or cocktail cart. There are a variety of designs on the market, like this modern-styled example.
3. Doubling Up
When making multiple drinks, a mixing glass is your best friend. The sturdy nature of the glass allows for mixing numerous drinks simultaneously, as only one hand per glass is needed to do the work, as I demonstrate in this video. This allows a free hand to take care of other business, such as refilling water, welcoming guests, or taking another sip of your own drink!
A mixing glass also makes it a breeze to mix multiples of the same drink in the same glass. The average mixing glass ranges from 18 to 25 ounces in volume, allowing two or more drinks to be stirred up easily in a single go.
How to Achieve the Optimal Stir
- Combine liquid ingredients in the mixing glass. Add ice to just above the liquid line (when the ice starts to get taller than the liquids inside – don’t skimp on the ice!).
- Hold a bar spoon between the middle and ring finger (much like a pair of chopsticks). Place the convex side (back of the bowl) of the bar spoon on the inside of the mixing glass, and slide it down into the glass until it taps the bottom.
- Gently guide the bar spoon around the bottom inner edge of the glass, creating a swirling motion with the ice and liquid. Be sure to keep your arm steady, moving only the fingers and the wrist, and be gentle: you should not hear ice clanking. Remember, you are encouraging the ingredients to blend together, so the movement should be slow and smooth.
- Stir for approximately 30 seconds (50-60 rotations) to achieve optimal dilution. A shorter stir will yield a stronger drink, whereas a longer stir will provide more dilution. Note: Preferences can be easily adjusted by adding or subtracting stir time, and you can rely on timing and visual cues to determine when the desired dilution is achieved.
If you are a mixing neophyte, the act of stirring may feel clunky, but it gets much easier with practice! To hone your skills, practice with water for a few minutes each day to build muscle memory and refine motor skills. Practice will make your grip feel more natural and the stirring motion smoother and gentler. You will be stirring like a pro in no time!
Do I Really Need a Mixing Glass?
A mixing glass truly is a core item of the cocktail tool kit; however, you can still make drinks without one. If you want to achieve optimal chill and dilution every time, though, a mixing glass is a worthy investment.
For under $20, this vessel will serve you well in making exceptional Old Fashioneds, Martinis, Sazeracs, and more, and you will look extremely cool doing so.