The exact origins of the “reverse” dry shake are tough to pin down. But in the past couple of years, the technique, which flips the progression of how you’d typically dry shake a cocktail, has risen in profile. But is it—and forgive me for this, Missy—worth it … to reverse it? Bartenders appear divided on the issue.
First, a bit of background: A reverse dry shake starts by shaking a cocktail’s ingredients over ice. The drink is then strained and the ice discarded so that the liquid can be re-shaken, without ice (the “dry” step, also called the “mime shake”), after which it’s strained again into a glass. Note the key distinction: The telltale white lather topping sours and fizzes is built up after the “wet” shake (over ice), rather than before.
Last year, Julie Reiner of Brooklyn’s Clover Club adopted this method into the build of her rendition of the bar’s namesake cocktail. Meanwhile, down in New Orleans, Bar Tonique’s Mark Schettler favors the reverse dry shake in the notoriously labor-intensive Ramos Gin Fizz. Tristan Stephenson, author of The Curious Bartender, has also advocated for the move.
Reiner learned of the technique in September 2015, while judging that year’s World Class cocktail competition. “I started playing around with it,” she recalls, “after seeing [World Class competitors] doing it.” What Reiner found in her early experimentation with the reverse dry shake was that it lends “this really amazing froth to the drink,” she says. “What we noticed is, the size of the bubbles are larger” than those of a dry-shaken cocktail. She says the head on the drink, in turn, ends up much larger, too, making for a more striking presentation.
In both the standard dry shake and its backward sibling, what you’re attempting to create, in culinary terms, is a foam, which, when based in egg white, is essentially a meringue.
“A meringue is just a breaking down of cells, and whipping them with air to create more of a bond, which gives it that aeration and that foam,” says Ray Keane, bartender at The Kitchen Step in Jersey City, N.J. Earlier in his career Keane trained as a pastry chef, so he knows a thing or two about whipping eggs. And he’s wary of the benefits of reverse dry shake.
“We at Kitchen Step do not believe in the reverse dry shake,” he asserts. “I think by shaking [the drink] over ice first, you’re adding [too much] water to the meringue… Especially in a pastry sense, any form of water touching your egg white is, like, the death of the meringue.”
Keane says the reverse dry shake results in a “decent” foam, “but it settles too quickly for me.” For a foam to form, the proteins in the egg white must first be denatured—i.e., go from being coiled up to unwound. The alcohol content in spirits contributes to this process. But introducing dilution first may hinder the proteins’ transformation, he says.
Rob Krueger—a partner at Extra Fancy in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, who also bartends at New York’s Employees Only—has experimented with both versions of the dry shake technique, as well, and came away favoring neither: he skips dry shaking altogether. “The right ice and shaking can yield results nearly indistinguishable from either variant of dry shake,” Krueger contends. EO’s Steve Schneider agrees; for drinks calling for egg white, he and Krueger prefer to simply shake the ingredients vigorously with a single 2-by-2-inch ice cube. “That bad boy does the trick,” Schneider says.
Both Krueger and Keane also point out that, with respect to the reverse dry shake, ending your drink preparation with a prolonged iceless shake could very well be warming up the cocktail you just cooled down.
Even Reiner, who had adopted the reverse dry shake for her Clover Club, has since reverted back: the fluffy foam it yields may be more telegenic, but less satisfying texturally. “Ultimately, we decided we prefer the dry shake for the Clover Club over the reverse dry shake,” Reiner says, “because we liked the mouthfeel of the bubbles being smaller.” She says she performs about 10 dry shakes, lasting roughly 10 seconds total, to her Clover Club’s ingredients before adding ice for a second round.
Keane, the pastry chef-turned-bartender, is predictably fastidious about his foams, so what’s his move? He opts to keep a vintage milkshake blender behind the bar.
To make the Mildred, a modified Gin Sour on The Kitchen Step’s cocktail menu—a combination of gin, clarified lemon juice, hibiscus-infused simple syrup, raspberry liqueur, cucumber bitters and egg white—Keane whips all the ingredients together in the machine for nearly a minute. “Then we put really large cubes of ice and shake the egg white cocktail that way,” he says. Thoroughly emulsifying the ingredients before the ice touches them leads to a more distinctive head.
“It creates almost like a marshmallow on top,” he says. “You can balance a coin on the meringues on our drinks.”