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Who Said Whip It?

October 30, 2019

Story: Chloe Frechette

photo: Lizzie Munro

The now-standard practice of frothing drinks by shaking with a single ice cube is looking for its inventor.

It’s key to the ultra-efficient two-minute Ramos Gin Fizz, a perfectly fluffy pineapple Daiquiri and an expertly diluted Mai Tai. Yet almost no one seems to know just how the whip shake entered the modern bartender’s repertoire. Almost no one.

“I’ve only ever seen it in New York,” says Chicago-based bartender Paul McGee of the technique, which consists of shaking cocktails with a few pieces of crushed ice or a single Kold-Draft ice cube. It’s typically used in the preparation of creamy or egg white drinks, or those that are served over crushed ice, as the smaller volume of ice in the shaker allows for greater agitation, or “whipping,” of the ingredients, resulting in a frothier cocktail. For non-egg white drinks, using less ice in the shaker serves to partially dilute and chill the cocktail—ideal for pouring over quick-melting crushed ice.

The most famous application of the whip shake is undoubtedly the Ramos Gin Fizz, where the technique reduces the required shaking time by more than half and eliminates the need for dry shaking altogether. “We started to obsess over Ramos theory in the early days of Maison [Premiere], and I had been made aware of the technique from people doing egg white cocktails,” says bar director William Elliott, who also applies the whip shake to pineapple juice cocktails for greater froth.

One of those people was Tom Richter, who was simultaneously developing his famed two-minute version of the notoriously laborious cocktail. While his technique employs a version of the whip shake, he doesn’t take credit for inventing it, pointing instead to Attaboy bartender Otis Florence, who introduced him to it.

“In 2012 I was working at Pouring Ribbons and realized that using less ice was more effective in certain instances,” explains Florence. “I don’t remember the venerable Joaquín Simó [owner of Pouring Ribbons] or Toby Maloney [an early adopter of the practice] showing me this technique, although I wouldn’t put it past them to have already developed it,” recalls Florence.

Simó, for his part, doesn’t remember teaching Florence the technique either. “I have no idea who came up with that,” he says. “I have done some variety of a whip shake for a pretty long time—no real idea who first may have called it that or where I first heard about it.”

This is hardly unusual in the world of modern bartending. Every now and again, new techniques crop up, seemingly out of the ether, in several places at once; they were nowhere, then suddenly they are everywhere and nobody can recall how they got there. Of course, every such moment, from fat-washing to the pickleback, has a precise point of origin, but more often than not, by the time we realize it’s a worthwhile moment to document, the details are fuzzy.

Luckily, Toby Maloney has a sharp memory. An early practitioner of the whip shake, Maloney, the head bartender of Chicago’s Violet Hour and a partner in Mother’s Ruin in New York, recalls precisely where he first encountered the idea: “The first time I heard of it was in regards to Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy at Milk & Honey/Attaboy,” he says. After nearly a dozen interviews, confirmation eventually arrived directly from the source.

“That is 100 percent a Michael McIlroy technique,” says Sam Ross, co-owner with McIlroy of Attaboy and a former Milk & Honey bartender. Ross notes that the Milk & Honey team used to dry shake their Ginger Highballs, until one day in 2006 when “Michael dropped a tiny handful of nugget ice—maybe five nuggets—into the tin and found that the head was much more frothy and solid.”

Could it be that simple? Some 20 years after it opened—and nearly a decade since it closed—do all roads in the modern cocktail world still lead back to Milk & Honey, that seminal bar of the early revival?

The first bar in New York to introduce house rules, the neo-speakeasy style, and shaking with large-format ice cubes, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Milk & Honey’s innovations have become standard industry practice. But it also wouldn’t be the first time that techniques have arisen seemingly anew, only to be revealed later as having existed generations before. When Chad Solomon invented the dry shake as a salve for his spinal injury in the early 2000s, for example, he unwittingly resurrected a technique that had been recorded half a century earlier in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up. Perhaps the whip shake, too, exists along this continuum—a subconscious exchange between bartending’s past and present.

According to historian David Wondrich, “Back in the 19th century ... occasionally you find a drink, such as the General Harrison’s Egg Nog in Harry Johnson’s 1882 book [Bartenders’ Manual], that is shaken with three or four small lumps of ice.”

Sounds an awful lot like a whip shake.

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