Cocktails

The Silent Shake Heard Round the World

October 14, 2019

Story: Robert Simonson

Photo: Lizzie Munro

Cocktails

The Silent Shake Heard Round the World

October 14, 2019

Story:

Art: Lizzie Munro

How a once-obscure technique changed frothy drinks forever.

Fifteen years ago, every shaken cocktail you ordered was accompanied by the reassuring chunka chunka of ice banging against a metal mixing tin. Then, somewhere around 2006, a stealthy silent shake slipped into the nightly rhythm of America’s best cocktail bars.

A method used for emulsifying cocktails containing egg or dairy, the “dry shake” requires two steps. First, a drink’s elements are added to a tin and shaken without ice; then ice is added, and the cocktail is shaken once more to chill and dilute the drink. It was discovered—or rather rediscovered, as this story has a hell of a twist—by Chad Solomon, a bartender who worked at the Manhattan cocktail cove Pegu Club, a celebrated mecca of cocktail innovation in its early days.

He wasn’t looking for a new technique; he was simply attempting to ease his chronic back pain. What he fortuitously discovered was a better way to make Ramos Gin Fizzes and Clover Clubs, leading to frothier, well-integrated drinks. His innovation was quickly adopted by New York’s then-tight cocktail bartending community. Soon, dry shakes could be seen—but not heard—at Milk & Honey, Little Branch, PDT, Death & Co and beyond.

To get the full story of how the dry shake came to be, we talked to Solomon; Christy Pope, a bartender at Milk & Honey and Little Branch (and Solomon’s wife); Pegu Club owner Audrey Saunders; Pegu Club bartender Jim Meehan, who mentioned the method in the 2007 Food & Wine cocktail guide, which he edited; and Jared Brown, a UK-based cocktail historian who carried the new intel from New York to London.

Origins

Chad Solomon (bartender, Milk & Honey, 2002 to 2007; Pegu Club, 2005 to 2007): “I experienced a spinal injury in August of 2002 that went untreated and undiagnosed, and that ultimately worsened severely in 2006. I was bartending at Pegu Club and at Milk & Honey on Tuesday nights. I had a hard, vigorous shake, as proper aeration, emulsification of eggs, chill and dilution were all hallmarks of the programs at both houses. In particular, egg-white drinks . . . and Ramos Gin Fizzes were popular and I needed a hack.”

Audrey Saunders (co-owner, Pegu Club, 2005 to present): “I’d say it was early 2006. I distinctly remember Chad at that point being in a good deal of nightly pain from a then-undiagnosed fractured back, and it was obvious that the dry shake was helping to alleviate some of the shock waves exacerbated by shaking large chunks of dense ice all night.”

Christy Pope (bartender, Milk & Honey, 2001 to 2007; Little Branch, 2005 to 2007): “I don’t recall him discussing it as in, ‘I have this new technique, watch what I can do’; more I saw it as a necessary evolution he made with his shaking out of need.”

Research & Development

Solomon: “I don’t remember setting out with the specified goal of finding an easier method, per se. I was more interested in consistent results at first. I don’t really remember a specific ‘aha’ moment, but I came to intuitively realize that pre-emulsifying the egg white into the cocktail before adding ice resulted in a better emulsified finished drink. The culinary technique of whipping egg whites in a bowl with a whisk to create a foamy texture was the North Star idea to replicate in the shaker.”

Pope: “As the results became noticeable by others, it became a constant topic of conversation with industry peers, and, in particular, [Milk & Honey owner] Sasha Petraske loved it and was excited to share it and play around more with the idea.”

Solomon: “At some point after the initial session, Sasha suggested that we try adding an emulsifying object that didn’t add dilution, like in a can of Krylon spray paint. He would later experiment with taking the spring off of a Hawthorne strainer and adding it to the dry shake, then taking it out, adding ice, shaking and straining. He abandoned that pretty quickly, as it wasn’t really practical in service.”

First Reactions

Solomon:Jim Meehan saw me do it one night at Pegu Club and got it. He asked if I had shown Audrey, which I think we did right then. It became standard at Pegu from that point on.”

Jim Meehan (bartender at Pegu Club, 2005 to 2007; co-owner of PDT, 2007 to present): “I don’t remember my precise reaction, but most of my reactions to learnings at Pegu were revelatory.”

Saunders: “Coming from a culinary background, it made perfect sense to me, as I had whipped meringue by hand before. It was logical that a culinary technique could be applied to cocktails simply by utilizing different tools.”

Saunders: “One of our top sellers has always been the Earl Grey MarTEAni, which benefited greatly from the technique.  It provided an improved mouthfeel—texturally, it felt more ethereal.”

Solomon: “It quickly became the Milk & Honey standard. I also remember [cocktail historians] Jared Brown and Anistasia Miller visiting and sitting in front of me at Pegu Club, ordering a round of Earl Grey MarTEAnis and going bananas for the head on top of the drink, and asking me to explain how I achieved it so they could take it back to share with bartenders overseas.”

Jared Brown (Britain-based cocktail historian and educator): “I remember encountering the dry shake at Pegu, and it was a technique we immediately added to our teaching repertoire.”

Pope: “We used it at Little Branch. It’s possible I brought it over. I remember showing it to [co-owner] Joseph Schwartz, who got it immediately.”

Solomon: “In January 2007, Phil Ward and Brian Miller left Pegu Club to go and open Death & Co, taking the dry shake with them, and Jim took it to PDT when he opened there in May. Basically, I remember that it spread very quickly with no looking back.”

Meehan: “I memorialized it in the [2007] Food & Wine cocktail book.” [The entry read, “Shaking egg white cocktails without ice, then shaking them again with ice emulsifies the white and adds an airy texture.”]

Solomon: “Credit goes to Jim for both crediting me and doing his part in spreading the technique. [Writers] Gary Regan and Dave Wondrich both called me down the line saying they had heard from Jim about my role in the dry shake.”

Legacy

Meehan: “We incorporated dry shaking into all our egg drinks [at PDT] from day one. At that point, it was codified, and I don’t recall anyone not dry-shaking egg drinks.”

Saunders: “I hadn’t heard of it prior to Chad implementing it, but it turns out that it wasn’t a new technique after all. You’ll find it in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up [from 1951], utilized in the Hotel Georgia cocktail.”

Solomon: “In 2011, Gary Regan called me to tell me that [bartender] Shawn Soole from Victoria, BC, had gotten in touch with him and found that the dry shake had been under our collective noses for a while, hidden in plain sight, in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up. In the book, under the Hotel Georgia cocktail, there is a small sentence stating, ‘Shake well before adding ice. This gives a nice top.’”

Pope: “Chad did not ‘create’ the dry shake. Rather, he personally discovered this technique for himself out of need and brought awareness to a new generation of dedicated bartending professionals.”

Solomon:Greg Boehm’s family published Bottoms Up, and he gave me a first-edition copy as a present . . . So, funnily enough, it was under my nose for three years.”

Saunders: “At this point, the dry shake has branched out into the ‘reverse dry shake’ [shaking the drink first with ice, and then without]. Some claim that this provides even better results, but I don’t agree with the trend. Something that I learned from my time spent lecturing with Harold McGee is that egg foams form faster at higher temperatures, hence a cocktail foam will form faster if the egg is shaken first, without ice.”

Solomon: “The dry shake and its quick adoption into the cocktail bartending lexicon is the product of the competitive camaraderie of passionate professionals who were all looking to improve the game at that time. I was just a vessel to help rediscover it and champion it as a practice. For what it’s worth, we use the reverse dry shake at [my and Pope’s Dallas bar] Midnight Rambler.”

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