The Art of Throwing Cocktails Makes a Comeback

I was about to leave Blue Quarter, a new cocktail bar in the East Village neighborhood of New York. That night, the miniscule bar was playing host to Nick Detrich and Chris Hannah, two bartenders from New Orleans who had recently opened a Cuba-flavored bar in the French Quarter called Manolito.

“Robert,” called out Detrich. “You’re not going to leave before I throw you a martini, are you?”

No, I certainly was not.

Detrich began to fill a cocktail tin with gin, vermouth and ice. He then held it high above his head, a cocktail strainer snug within its rim, and let the clear liquid cascade into a second tin he held in his other hand. Transferring the liquid back to the ice-filled tin, he performed this trick a few more times before straining the cocktail into a coupe and serving it to me.

This is how every martini is served at Manolito. Showboating? Sure. But it’s showboating with a purpose and with a past.

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The resultant drink doesn’t taste like any martini you’ve had before. Most martinis, whether stirred or shaken, have an icy gravity to them. A thrown martini feels like the drink is suddenly, after all these years of seriousness, showing you its fun side. It is noticeably lighter in body and texture.

“The act of throwing produces tiny bubbles that lend a lively mouthfeel and also release aromatics,” explained Detrich. “Shaking works well for fruit juices and egg whites, but it’s violent aeration can work to the detriment of certain drinks like martinis or Negronis. Stirring, on the other hand, can leave certain drinks flat and flaccid as it lends only dilution and chilling to the drink.”   

Detrich and Hannah picked up the trick while visiting the historical bars of Havana, where throwing is still a common technique.

The Manolito owners are at the forefront of a small but growing revival of cocktail throwing in the United States. The martini at Dante, in Greenwich Village, is also thrown—though it’s the only cocktail on the menu that is prepared that way at the apertivo bar. And bartender Lindsay Matteson, currently at Barnacle in Seattle, throws cocktails any chance she gets. When her old boss, Sother Teague, invited her back for a guest shift at Amor y Amargo in New York, “I told Sother,” she said, “I wanted to break the rules. So I came back and broke the rules.” She did so by throwing Negronis.

“Throwing is going to give a drink a different texture, more body,” she said. “It’s aerating the cocktail without agitating it. It’s more velvety. I think of a stirred Negroni as having this thin, silky texture.”

Despite its theatrical mien, throwing cocktails is more accurately viewed as a back-to-basics approach to mixing drinks. Cocktail shakers didn’t become common bar equipment until the late 19th century. Before that, drinks were blended by throwing them back and forth between two mugs or glasses. (Think of that famous drawing of legendary American bartender Jerry Thomas making a Blue Blazer.)

One month in! We've been busy blending daiquiris, throwing martinis and serving up all types of delicious food. We're here Monday and Tuesday from 5pm-11pm as well as Wednesday thru Sunday 11am-11pm. Come stop by and get your Cuban fix!

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The style has been preserved in certain corners of the world, such as Cuba and Barcelona, where an El Floridita veteran, Miguel Boadas, opened up Bar Boadas in 1933. The bar is still there, and the technique is used for practically every cocktail, according to Detrich. Today, throwing is also seen at various other cocktail bars throughout Europe. (I first encountered it L’Fleur in Prague.)

The leading modern evangelist of throwing is writer, historian and gin-maker Jared Brown, who lives in England. He learned the practice a decade ago from Maria Delores Boadas, the daughter of Miguel, and has since been schooling young bartenders every chance he gets. If you ever encounter Brown at a trade show or cocktail convention hawking his gin, Sipsmith, chances are you’ll catch him in mid-throw.

“I have no doubt throwing is already returning to the U.S.,” said Brown.

He does not worry that acquiring the skill to properly throw will hinder the practice’s spread. He insists it’s quite easy. (This writer’s attempts to throw a martini confirms this. I had it down after three tries.) Brown just has one tip.

“Never take your eyes off the tin that is catching the liquid,” he instructed. “The moment you try to look at the one that’s holding the ice, you’ll end up with the drink on your shoes.”

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