This Cuban Mixing Technique will Revolutionize Your Cocktails

Shake two of these and call us in the morning. Image: arkady2013 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

When it comes to mixing drinks, you can shake, stir or blend, right? Not so fast. While most cocktails employ one of the first two techniques (the general rule of thumb is to shake drinks that have citrus, egg white or other non-boozy ingredients, and to stir those that contain all alcohol ingredients), there is another oft-overlooked method.

One recently opened New Orleans bar inspired by Havana’s drink dens is committed to bringing it back.

Over the years, veteran barmen Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah have traveled extensively together to Cuba, exploring the country’s culture and cocktail scene, and interacting with the country’s highly regarded bartenders.

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“Cuban cantineros of the first half of the twentieth century were looked upon with the same regard that Japanese bartenders are currently, and they still hold that regard within Cuba,” Detrich says. “They've definitely held on—and been reintroduced to—certain techniques that today's bartenders can draw a great deal from: throwing cocktails and the attention to texture of blended drinks, just to name two.”

The duo was stirred to open a bar inspired by their travels. The result is the tiny, less than 600-square-foot, 24-seat Manolito, which opened last April in New Orleans’ French Quarter and is co-owned by Detrich, Hannah and Conrad Kantor. (The bar itself is named for their good friend Manuel Carbajo Aguiar, a cantinero who worked at the iconic El Floridita for nearly two decades before passing away suddenly last year.) On the list are classic and contemporary Cuban libations, many of which use a mixing technique called throwing, during which a cocktail is poured back and forth between two shakers with an increasingly farther distance.

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In the nineteenth century, before the invention of the cocktail shaker, throwing—a technique believed to have been brought over from Spain—was often used by American bartenders mixing drinks. Bu here, it was more about showmanship than practicality (think of it as the first generation of flair bartending). Throwing was enthusiastically embraced by Cuban cantineros, and its use is undergoing a resurgence in the current cocktail renaissance.

At Manolito, a few drinks are shaken or stirred, but most are blended or thrown. “Throwing catches people’s eye, we do it tableside,” Detrich explains. Throwing aerates a drink, giving it an unbelievable mouth feel. “People recognize it’s silkier and adds lusciousness.” It’s great for drinks that contain aromatized wine, like the El Presidente, but it doesn’t work for all cocktail styles. Detrich says he would never use it an Old Fashioned. Manhattan, Sazerac or Improved Gin Cocktail, for example, because that texture just doesn’t suit those combinations of ingredients.

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There is a learning curve for staff attempting to learn how to throw, but practice makes proficient. Detrich instructs them to first throw using a mixture of an ounce of simple syrup and two ounces of water before moving on to actual cocktails.

“Once you get the coordination, you have to learn how to control the flow,” he says. That sticky mixture serves as a high motivator to learn quickly, however. “Whatever they spill, they have to clean up.”

El Presidente

Recipe courtesy of Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah, Manolito, New Orleans, LA

“In throwing the drink this way you end up with some aeration, though not as violent as when shaking a cocktail,” Detrich says. “The bubbles are larger, and therefore the drink has a much silkier texture.

Combine all ingredients except garnishes in a shaker tin or mixing glass. Add large ice cubes and, using a strainer to hold the ice back, pour the mixture into a second tin or glass. Repeat 8 to 10 times, gradually increasing the distance as far as you can. Strain the drink into a large chilled coupe, and garnish with the orange twist and cherry.

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.