Elevate your cocktail with a bit of fresh air

By / Wine + Drinks / March 7th, 2018 / 2

It’s not listed in any cocktail recipes. You won’t find it on anybody’s back bar. But increasingly, it’s an ingredient that bartenders are obsessing over and trying to figure how to max out. We’re talking about … oxygen.

The first person to ever articulate to me the importance of oxygen in cocktails was Hidetsugu Ueno, the legendary bartender who opened Bar High Five, a tiny, exclusive “speakeasy” on the fifth floor of an office building in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Ueno-san was one of several bartenders who helped perfect and promote the shaking techniques that set Japan’s cocktail culture apart from the rest of the world. When I asked Ueno-san about suggestions that his highly stylized, super-fluid Japanese hard shake was about making the drink colder, he explained that, to him, the aeration factor was more important.

Although we’d all known we loved fluffy, frothy, well-shaken drinks, few people talked explicitly in terms of “aeration” at that time. That’s changed.

“The whole point of shaking is that you’re aerating the cocktail,” argues Robyn Gray, head bartender at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Prohibition Bar in Vancouver. “If you just want it cold, you could stir it or serve it over ice. But having more air in your cocktail actually changes the way your mouth perceives it.

Gray points out, though, that when it comes to aeration, not all shaking techniques are equal. Years ago, cocktail bartenders used to just shake rigorously with ice. Then, bartending techniques evolved the dry-shake (shake once with no ice, then add ice and shake again). Next came the equal (but opposite) reaction, namely, the reverse dry-shake, in which the cocktail goes through two separate shakes — first with ice, then a second without. The reverse dry-shake is gaining ground with people like Gray, who also advises trying to vary your motions as you shake.

“Ueno-san does a swirling motion, instead of knocking it back and forth off the bottom and top of the shaker — smash, smash, smash,” Gray explains. “He’s actually spinning the ice within the cocktail shaker, so he’s putting more oxygen into it. And less ice gets into the drink, because it’s not getting smashed.”

Gray says the swirly dry-shake is ideal for making the Hotel Georgia, a mid-century cocktail invented at the same hotel he now works. This refreshing, silky-smooth drink is a bit of a hidden gem in the Canadian bartending canon (unfairly overshadowed by the bloody Caesar) that deserves to be more widely known for its connection to the evolution of shaking techniques. As cocktail historian Gary (Gaz) Regan pointed out a few years ago, the first known recipe for the Hotel Georgia is also one of the first known references to the “dry-shake” technique, which many bartenders thought was a more recent innovation.

In the original recipe, published in 1951 by Canadian drinks writer Ted Saucier in Bottoms Up, these are the instructions for the Hotel Georgia Cocktail: “Shake well before adding ice. This gives a nice ‘top.’”

Gray hates to quibble, but he suggests the reverse dry-shake for his version of the Hotel Georgia.

The Hotel Georgia

2 oz London Dry gin
1 oz fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz orgeat (almond syrup)
1 fresh egg white (or 30 ml pasteurized egg whites)
6 drops orange blossom water

Put all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well once. Strain out and shake a second time without ice. (This is the reverse dry-shake method.) Fine-strain into chilled coupe glass and dust with a delicate portion of fresh grated nutmeg. (A microplane is perfect for this.)


Christine Sismondo is a National Magazine Award-Winning drinks columnist and the author of Mondo Cocktail: A Shaken and Stirred History as well as America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

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