Shake Strain Done

Craft Cocktails at Home


By J.M. Hirsch

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Revolutionize the way you drink at home with simple recipes and common ingredients — no obscure liquors or fussy techniques needed — from the editorial director of Milk Street, J.M. Hirsch.

Are you done with generic gin and tonics, mediocre Manhattans and basic martinis? You can use pantry staples and basic liquors to produce more than 200 game-changing craft cocktails worthy of a seat at the bar.

Many cocktail books call for hard-to-find ingredients and complicated techniques that can frustrate home cocktail makers. Shake Strain Done shows a better way:
  • If you can shake, strain, stir and turn on a blender, you can make great cocktails.
  • No tedious secondary recipes hidden between the lines.
  • No mysteries. You'll know what each drink will taste like before you pick up a bottle.
  • No fancy equipment needed. A shaker, strainer and spoon are as exotic as it gets.
  • The ingredients are mostly pantry and bar staples–things you already have on hand.
Every drink is rated by its characteristics — Warm, Refreshing, Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Fruity, Herbal, Creamy, Spicy, Strong and Smoky — to help expand your horizons and find more drinks to love.

These are drinks with the sophistication of a high-end speakeasy, minus the fuss, like:
  • The Sazerac 2.0 – a spice cabinet update that takes the classic back to its origins
  • A new White Russian that lightens the load with coconut water instead of cream
  • A grownup Singapore Sling that's fruity without tasting like fruit punch
  • A Scorched Margarita that uses the broiler to char those lemons and limes
  • A feisty new Gin and Tonic in which black pepper is the star ingredient
  • And plenty of originals, like the Pooh Bear. Butter, honey and bourbon? Yes, please! And Mistakes Were Made, for tiki time





Professional mixologists are paid to geek out gloriously behind the bar, tinkering with elixirs, straining purees, concocting distillations, infusing, steeping, and sous viding rare this-and-thats. They are trained and practiced in the art of flavor and proportion, and they think nothing of adding fractions of an ounce of obscure and pricey ingredients to each drink. Because they can.

I love them—and their drinks. But little of what they do is practical at home. When was the last time you infused your own cardamom-cinnamon-hibiscus bitters? Or spent six months barrel-aging that Negroni you perfected? Or pondered which of the 30 gins on your shelf has the perfect profile for that new lemon grass–forward tonic water you’ve been dying to try? Exactly.

Trouble is, most cocktail books are written by those people for those people, and their recipes reflect the same complexity we’ll gladly shell out $15 for at the bar, but haven’t a hope of recreating at home.

This isn’t those books. Because drinking at home should be just as much fun—and just as satisfying—as drinking out and about. Minus the fuss. And with a basic bar setup and ingredients most of us already have kicking around the kitchen, it’s easy.

This book was born as I found myself riffing on the drinks I’d enjoyed at great bars, learning the tips and tricks that make it easy to craft better cocktails at home. The more I played, the more I realized simple, common ingredients combined with a limited repertoire of liquors could produce some extraordinary cocktails. These are those recipes.

Here’s what you need to know about the drinks in this book:

• If you can shake, strain, stir, and turn on a blender, you can make great cocktails. And if you can’t do these things, I’ll show you how.

• There are no fussy ingredients or tedious secondary recipes hidden between the lines.

• There are no mysteries. You’ll know what each drink will taste like before you even walk over to your liquor cabinet.

• No fancy equipment needed. A cocktail shaker, strainer, and spoon are as exotic as it gets.

• The volume, garnish, or style of a cocktail sometimes merits serving it in specific glassware. I’ll suggest the best choice, but I just as often ignore my own advice. Serve these in any glass that suits you. Sippy cups in a pinch.

Making a great cocktail should not feel like an overwrought chemistry experiment, nor require a go-for-broke liquor cabinet. You’ll be surprised by how many common ingredients can be used to make great craft-style cocktails. Here’s the proof.


Cocktails are like music. Just as there is little satisfaction in listening to a single note of a song, drinks built from singular flavors are flat and uninteresting. Great cocktails are orchestrations of flavors, aromas, and textures, an assembly of high and low notes that are coordinated. Understanding those notes and how to balance them not only helps you make better drinks, it also opens you up to discovering new things you didn’t know you liked.

Let’s say you’re a Margarita drinker. You probably are drawn to cocktails that are sweet and sour. So let’s run that spectrum. A lime-spiked gin and tonic is built from lighter touches of both. But the tonic water also introduces bitter flavors. If you like that, an Aperol Spritz is an excellent next step—still sweet, a little sour, a nice dose of bitter. From there, try an Americano, which combines Campari—a slightly more bitter, stronger Italian liqueur—with sweet vermouth. And if you enjoy the spicy-herbal flavors of sweet vermouth, you might as well head straight to a Manhattan, which tosses in some peppery rye or sweet bourbon.

This is a simple concept, but understanding it—and putting it to use—requires that we have a meaningful language for it. Trouble is, cocktail menus and books too often use language that makes sense to bartenders, but isn’t particularly helpful to the rest of us. A list of obscure liquors is fine for the pros, but says little about what to expect from the glass for those of us playing along at home.

So let’s break it down into terms we all can appreciate. Most cocktails are built from a varying mix of 11 characteristics—REFRESHING, CREAMY, FRUITY, SWEET, SOUR, HERBAL, BITTER, SPICY, SMOKY, WARM and STRONG. This is language we can taste. Because knowing a drink is sour, sweet, moderately strong, and lightly fruity is a heck of a lot more informative than being left to wonder what crème de violette tastes like when combined with gin, maraschino liqueur, and lemon juice (the ingredients for a classic Aviation).

This book uses that sensory language to help you know what to expect from each cocktail. And it organizes the recipes two ways. First, by primary liquor. Because sometimes you just know you want bourbon. Or a vodka Martini. Second, by dominant characteristics. Because sometimes it’s 95ºF and you need something refreshing. Or you want to take the chill off with something warm and strong. This book has you covered.

So here’s a quick primer on what these characteristics mean and the multitude of ways we can achieve them in different cocktails.


A cool breeze in the mouth. REFRESHING drinks are your go-to summer sippers. This might mean the cocktail also is SWEET and FRUITY, but not necessarily. A Gin & Tonic, for example, isn’t fruity or particularly sweet, but it is refreshing. The bubbles of sparkling wine or soda, or sparkling and tonic waters also contribute refreshing notes. The liquors tend to be clear, but juices can help bourbon take a refreshing turn.


3 ounces gin, 4 ounces tonic water, plenty of ice cubes, a lime wedge, and a lemon zest strip or coin. Just stir it all together in a highball glass.


In cocktails, CREAMY too often comes across as heavy and cloying. That’s partly due to an overreliance on milk and heavy cream, the heft of which can dull other flavors. (I’m talking to you, Mudslides and White Russians of the world.) But there are plenty of lighter, brighter ways to achieve creaminess in a cocktail, ways that awaken rather than deaden your palate. A drop of vanilla extract or a muddled vanilla bean heads in that direction. Egg whites shaken into a cocktail—particularly in drinks that are a little SWEET and SOUR—add both a creamy flavor and rich, velvety texture. Also good: coconut milk and coconut water, the latter of which I use to make a lighter, more sophisticated version of a White Russian.


2 ounces vodka, 1½ ounces coconut water, 1 ounce Kahlúa. Stir in a rocks glass filled halfway with crushed ice.


FRUITY can be an in-your-face frozen Strawberry Margarita or the subtle pop of a maraschino cherry dropped into an Old Fashioned. Fruity drinks usually bring an element of SWEET and sometimes SOUR, but fruit-based bitters (such as orange bitters) and strips of citrus zest are great ways to add subtle fruity notes. Chunks of whole fruit, jams, fruit syrups (such as grenadine), and fruit liqueurs also are great sources, but can dramatically sweeten a drink. The Cuban cocktail El Presidente gets pronounced fruity flavors without tasting overwhelmingly SWEET from modest amounts of orange liqueur and grenadine and a strip of orange zest.


1½ ounces white rum, 1½ ounces dry vermouth, ½ ounce orange liqueur, ¼ ounce grenadine. Combine in a stirring glass and stir with ice cubes. Strain into a coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange zest strip or coin.


Most cocktails have at least an undercurrent of SWEET. It may be nothing more than a subtle background note balancing other characteristics such as BITTER or SOUR, but it’s essential. Other drinks are meant to be overtly sweet, such as a basic Daiquiri. But even then, I find a light touch is best; sugar can overwhelm other flavors. Simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water) is the most common cocktail sweetener, but it’s just the start. Fruit (such as a maraschino cherry), liquors (such as sweet vermouth and orange liqueur), and even vegetables (the tomato juice in a Bloody Mary) all up the SWEET.


3 ounces white rum, ½ ounce lime juice, ½ ounce agave or simple syrup, dash Angostura bitters. Shake with ice cubes. Strain into a coupe. Serve neat.


SOUR notes—which also can be described as acidic—brighten and lighten cocktails. In STRONG drinks, SOUR gives lift, keeping them from becoming heavy and dense. In lighter cocktails, SOUR pulls the flavors toward REFRESHING. Like SWEET, SOUR is easily overdone, leaving your mouth feeling astringent and unable to appreciate other flavors. Most cocktails get sour notes from citrus juice, as in a Raspberry-Lime Rickey. But don’t limit yourself to lemon and lime. Orange, tangerine, mango, pineapple, peach and grapefruit each add varying levels of SOUR as well as SWEET. Citrus sodas, such as those from Sanpellegrino, also are great.


3 ounces gin, 1 ounce lime juice, 1 tablespoon raspberry jam. Shake with ample ice cubes. Doublestrain into a highball glass with ample ice cubes. Top with club soda.


Herbs add freshness, but their pungent aromas and flavors also can overwhelm more delicate ingredients. The bushel of fresh mint typically added to a Mint Julep generally is too much for my taste; I prefer the more modest sprig or two muddled into a Mojito. But mint is just the start; other herbs play well with cocktails, too, including fresh basil, sage, thyme, and rosemary. Regardless of how much you use, controlling an herb’s intensity is simple—the more an herb is bruised, the stronger its flavor. An unblemished sprig added as garnish offers the lightest touch. Smack that sprig between your hands and the flavors and aroma will be stronger. Muddle it and it will be even more intense. For the biggest blast, use a blender to finely chop it into the liquor, then strain for a quick and intense infusion.


2 sprigs fresh mint, ½ ounce agave or simple syrup, 3 ounces white rum, 1 ounce lime juice. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the mint and syrup. Shake with the rum, lime juice and ice cubes. Strain into a highball glass with ample ice cubes. Top with club soda and garnish with more mint.


Essential for balance, BITTER rarely plays alone. It often is a partner to SWEET, STRONG, and FRUITY, as in the Americano, which manages to be BITTER, SWEET and REFRESHING thanks to the way the sweet vermouth and lemon zest balance the bitter Campari. A little goes a long way, particularly with the most obvious source—cocktail bitters. Think of them as the salt of the cocktail scene. You often won’t directly taste that dash or two you add, but they round out and heighten the other flavors. Some cocktails call for more pronounced bitterness, which can come from liquors such as Aperol or Campari, or herbs such as rosemary.


2 ounces Campari, 2 ounces sweet vermouth, 3 ounces club soda, lemon zest strip or coin, 1 large or 2 standard ice cubes. Stir in a rocks glass.


The term makes us think of chilies—which certainly are delicious when paired with tequila—but there is so much more. Cocktails can get SPICY notes from ginger, as in the ginger beer used in a Moscow Mule; from liquors, such as a particularly assertive rye; from dried spices, such as black peppercorns or a pinch of cayenne; or from a hit of hot sauce, as in a Bloody Mary. The trick, of course, is to keep the spice moderate so it doesn’t blow out the other flavors; it usually helps to pair it with SWEET. Just a hint of heat acts like salt, heightening and enhancing the other ingredients; this works in cooking, too—try a few drops of hot sauce in your next mac and cheese. And let’s not forget, SPICY also may involve no heat at all. Cinnamon and cardamom used in the right place can add SPICE without heat.


3 ounces vodka, ½ ounce lime juice, ¼ ounce agave or simple syrup, generous pinch cayenne pepper. Shake with ice cubes. Strain into a rocks glass with ice cubes. Top with ginger beer and a lime wedge.


As with SWEET, SOUR and SPICY, a little smokiness goes a long way. The easiest way to add it is with liquors, such as mezcal, some tequilas, and scotch, which have naturally smoky notes. A Rob Roy uses the peaty flavor of scotch to create a drink with subtle SMOKY notes balanced by sweet vermouth. You also can use real smoke, as in the smoked cinnamon stick in the Spiced Old Fashioned (here). For instructions on smoking cocktails, see here.


3 ounces scotch, ¾ ounce sweet vermouth, dash Angostura bitters. Stir with ice cubes. Strain into a rocks glass and serve neat.


Think fireside sippers. WARM drinks kindle the soul and—depending on how STRONG—put a fire in the belly. They often are bold and brown; cue a Manhattan, please. WARM also comes from spices, such a cinnamon and cardamom, spice-based liquors such as vermouth, or even some botanical-rich gins.


2½ ounces rye or bourbon, ½ ounce sweet vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Stir with ice cubes. Strain into a rocks glass. Serve neat with a maraschino cherry stirred in.


The strength of a cocktail generally is determined by the ratio of liquor to other ingredients, such as juice, soda, water, ice, and lower-alcohol mix-ins, such as wine. Drinks such as the Old Fashioned and Gin Martini generally involve little more than alcohol, so they tend to be STRONG. A Gin & Tonic—which is diluted by both tonic water and ice—usually is much lighter. But note that FRUITY and SWEET ingredients are brilliant at masking STRONG, which is why it is so easy to slurp down one too many boozy Daiquiris before you know what hit you.


2½ ounces gin, ½ ounce dry vermouth. Stir with ice cubes. Strain into a cocktail glass. Serve neat and garnish with a green olive or two.


Too often in cocktails—as in life—we get trapped by what we know we like. We enjoy the Strong, Warm and slightly Sweet attributes of an Old Fashioned, and so we become an Old Fashioned drinker. Which is great, but it doesn’t have to end there.

Rather than see preference as a limit, I see it as the beginning. If you love an Old Fashioned, what else might you like? By using a consistent and natural language with cocktails—those 11 characteristics that sum up how they taste and feel—we are able to use what we like as a jumping-off point to explore new things.

The maps on the following pages cluster the cocktails in this book by dominant characteristics, making that exploration easy. Each chart starts with a classic cocktail that exemplifies the key flavor, then traces out the many ways it can express itself.

So if you like the STRONG, WARM and slightly SWEET flavor of an Old Fashioned, it’s easy to discover cocktails with similar profiles, including cocktails that might seem outwardly different enough that you wouldn’t otherwise have considered them. Like the STRONG, WARM and HERBAL Sazerac 2.0, which cuts back on the rye in favor of brandy and anise flavors.

Likewise, if you enjoy the SWEET, SOUR and FRUITY notes of a Margarita, you probably also would like the SWEET, SOUR and STRONG flavors of the Ginger Caipirinha. Or flip the equation and start with a FRUITY, SWEET and BITTER Rose-Tinted Glass, which combines gin, white wine, and Aperol with mint and grapefruit juice.

Finally, each chapter of the book is organized to begin with the lightest cocktail and build up to the boldest, making it easy to navigate the recipes within each liquor, depending on your mood and preference.


Gin & Tonic


Peruvian Orange Grove

Orange You Glad

Cabana Boy

The Arctic Guac

Naked Russian


Pisco Sour

The Gin and Dock

The Stinger

Kombucha Spritzer


Tender Negroni

Pom Bliss

Race for the Sun


The Celery Stalker

Cilantro-Mint Gin and Tonic

Green Teaser

Liquid Crystal

The Russian Hotel


The Cranky Pineapple

Frigid Mary


Cinnamon Toast

Everything Nice


The Sophisticate

Drain the Swamp

The Lemon Bush


The Threeway

Sal’s Martini

Frothed and Fruity

The Rumbles

Minted and Popped

Mango Diva

The Blazing Grapefruit

Korean Punch

The Sundowner

Madly Mimosa


Peruvian 75

The Airstream

The Sidearm

Citrus Sparkler

The Bitter Slap

The Dirty Gimlet

Tiki Time

The Seedling


The Sweater Weather

See No Evil

Uptown Party

Blushing Aperol Spritz

Vanilla Blood


White Russian


Campari Kiss


Peruvian Orange Grove

Orange You Glad

Cabana Boy

Naked Russian


Pisco Sour

Key Lime Pie

Thai Me Up


French Kiss

Lychee-Mint Martini

Cinnamon Nut Bread

Snowy London Stroll

Chai Slide

The Chocolate Orange

Apple Cream Pie

Espresso Martini

Feeling Seedy

Southern Pleasure

The Green Mountain State

Pooh Bear

The French Sap

Kentucky Creamsicle

Celtic Coffee


The Deep Plum

Sum of Its Parts

Minted Lemon Drop


Only the Lonely

Up and At ’Em

Moscow’s Sunny Side


Vanilla Beach

The Arctic Guac

Chamomile Craze

That Wascally Wabbit

The Sly Chris

Vanilla Love

Mashed and Creamed



Almond Joy

Tropical Tartan

Monk’s Love


Peas and Thank You

Red Bush Bliss


Caribbean Christmas


  • Hirsch presents drinks in a 'language that we can taste.' You can peruse the book for a primary liquor, like bourbon, and for a dominant characteristic. So, for instance, if you want a refreshing vodka drink or a warm bourbon tipple on a cold night, the book will guide you.—The Associated Press
  • [T]he recipes: dozens of them, delicious and complex without being effete, full of fresh flavors that, more often than not, will have you saying to yourself, “Why didn’t I ever think of mixing things that way?”—Medium
  • Lots of people are drinking at home during this unsettling era, but they’re getting a little bored with their same old, same old. Shake Strain Done, from J.M. Hirsch, comes at just the right time to break up the tedium. … One of the nice things about Shake Strain Done is that it groups recipes by flavor — warm, refreshing, sweet, sour, bitter, fruity, herbal, creamy, spicy, strong and smoky —not only by the type of liquor. You don’t need anything fancy to make his drinks: as the title says, you simply shake (or stir), strain when required, and sip.—The CulinaryWoman
  • [P]ractical, peppered with useful drink hacks and emphasizing drink flavors (spicy, smoky, herbal, etc.). Enticing illustrations show how the finished drinks should appear. The book is designed to be friendly to home bartenders, but the cocktail recipes are solid, and pros can glean some new tricks too.
  • A great read with an encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails that’s never too geeky or snobby. Hirsch has an unusual palate and dreams up flavor combinations most of us never could.—The OC Register
  • ...a detailed guide to demystify the process of cocktail making. It’s the kind of book that you’ll want to leave out on your bar: elegant and engaging with an art deco motif and lots of fascinating charts on flavor profiles and useful techniques. But, best of all, it’s filled with dozens of enticing recipes begging for your personal experimentation.—New Hampshire Magazine

On Sale
Nov 3, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

J.M. Hirsch

About the Author

J.M. Hirsch is a James Beard Award-winning food and travel writer. He is editorial director of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street, a Boston-based food media company with a 140,000-circulation print magazine, award-winning cookbooks and public television and radio shows that reach millions of viewers and listeners. His previous cookbooks include High Flavor, Low Labor  and Beating the Lunchbox Blues. He is the former national food editor for The Associated Press and lives in New Hampshire with his son, husband and two cats. 

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