The Knife Stir

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

There are plenty of how-tos and instructions for cocktail making out there. Heck, between mediocre recipes and articles about how to shake a metal canister back and forth, what else does Punch write about? Anyway, I want to talk about the rarely discussed and scariest of all bar techniques: the knife stir.

Yes, some would call it the most dangerous cocktail procedure of them all. The knife stir is a maneuver I can only recommend for the most advanced cocktail makers out there. So, as a word of warning before we go any further, I am a mixologist. This means I have no authority to talk about anything except last night’s baseball scores, how to get to the restrooms, and where I got my tattoos. Proceed at your own risk.

You can trace the history of the knife stir back to the nursery rhyme “Hey Diddle Diddle” published in 1765. That infamous last line, “…and the dish ran away with the spoon”, leaves nothing to the imagination. Perhaps it was due to the sharp wit or slender figure of the knife, but the spoon has always been there as its companion in a proper table setting. The abandonment of the knife, by the spoon, for the dish, as documented in this classic children’s tale, leaves us with the first documented case of what would eventually be the catalyst for the knife stir technique—a missing spoon.

Now, we’ve all been there in the kitchen. You quickly pour your gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth over some ice, or perhaps it’s gin and tonic or Jack and Coke (though both come premixed in cans these days.) Regardless, after the pour you go and cut your citrus of choice, place the slice in the glass, and then with no spoon in arm’s reach you just lazily poke at the drink a few times with the knife.

It’s a slow jostling motion to hopefully move the ice around and mix the drink’s ingredients together. That begs the question: can a utensil known specifically for cutting and cutting alone, stand in for one designed for scooping, stirring, and (lacking a better word) spooning?

To your surprise, yes! Yes, it can! The knife works wonders! Your drink is properly mixed, and you didn’t dirty a spoon. The knife served two purposes, Alton Brown would be so proud. Now you can leave the knife right there on the counter because it isn’t dirty yet. To be honest, it’s most likely cleaner than it was if you make your cocktails like me, and it’ll come in handy for making dinner later. Now head out into the garden to sip on the sweet nectar of your hard work.

In summary: cut the fruit and then stir the booze with the same knife. With practice, you can move straight from cutting the citrus to knife-stirring without setting the knife down or losing a finger in the process. Luckily, we come equipped with extras in the finger department.

The Knife Stir

  • Make a drink on the rocks
  • Cut your citrus with a knife
  • Use the same knife to stir the drink *

* Advanced Technique ONLY FOR MIXOLOGISTS

Tune in next month for how to make a “vermouth” on a flight with only a sugar packet, a tea bag, and half a glass of the fancy red wine from up in first class. Now you can finally have a proper Manhattan for cocktail hour on that flight back home.

Never miss a story – subscribe now to the Gents Cafe Newsletter, a bite-sized read about men’s lifestyle to enjoy over a coffee or a nice cocktail.