Obviously, you’re going to need a shaker. It’s by far the most essential tool in your cocktail kit and like almost everything in cocktailworld there are three basic types – in this case Cobbler, Boston, and Parisian/French. But which of these is right shaker for you? Let’s see if we can figure that out right now so that you don’t end up with a whole bunch of them. Like me.
The Cobbler shaker is probably the most familiar. It can also be referred to as the three piece shaker as all the other types are made of just two pieces. The Cobbler is well suited to the beginner and for home use as it is the only type with a built-in strainer. The way to use it is pretty obvious; ice in the large part, ingredients over the ice, both tops on, shake, remove the small cap only and pour in to your (chilled!) glass. Advantages are easy availability and simplicity of use. Disadvantages are lack of control of straining, low capacity and, sometimes, difficulty of opening. When shopping for a Cobbler look for one with thick stainless steel that doesn’t deform when squeezed and has a good fit of the parts – any binding of the three parts will be massively magnified when in real use. You may need to try a few examples of even the same shaker to find the best fit (which often gets you some funny looks in the shop). This is why it is important to buy a shaker in person rather than online. My best Cobbler cost me almost nothing at a fleamarket so price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. The Cobbler is big in Japan and, until recently, de rigeur in Europe but the other types are gaining ground there. If you end up with more than one Cobbler take care not to get the parts mixed up as you’ll end up either covered in cocktail or with a jammed solid shaker. As you’ll need two shakers to run a decent cocktail party make sure your Cobblers look different enough to avoid this – for example one brushed steel and one polished steel.
The Boston shaker is ubiquitous in bars the USA but for home use the Cobbler is more common. Typically the Boston shaker consists of a standard US pint glass and a larger metal tin (sometimes with a coloured rubber or PVC coating). Because there are two large parts it is easy to have the ice waiting in the tin while you assemble the ingredients in the glass. Then pour the glass into the tin and put the glass on at such an angle that the combination has one straight edge (as shown). Give the base of the glass a slight slap to seal. Shake well. And now the tricky bit. As you shake the air inside the shaker contracts creating a partial vacuum which sucks the two halves together and can make them difficult to separate. There are three ways to do this. The wrong way to do it is clearly shown in the film Cocktail (indeed the wrong way to do everything is depicted in that shitty flick) – bang the shaker on the side of the bar and then strain the drink, glass splinters included, into the glass. The right ways are either to give the tin a slight squeeze to break the seal or if that fails give the tin a slap with the heel of your hand just to the side of the straightest edge. As there is no strainer in a Boston shaker you will need to use a separate strainer, more of which in another article. Advantages are, (very) low price, ease of cleaning, larger combined volume (more than one drink can be shaken at a time), interchangeable parts and that the pint glass can be used as a mixing glass. Disadvantages are that it takes a little more practice to use and that no-one ever fell in love with their Boston shaker. When shopping for one see the suggestions for the Cobbler but the thickness of the steel is less important. A weighted shaker (double steel ends) is desirable as much for a better grip as anything else.
A variation of the Boston shaker is the tin-on-tin shaker where the pint glass is replaced with another smaller tin. Advantages are that you can get your drinks colder, quicker than using glass. And that stainless steel tends not to shatter.
Another variation is a still smaller tin, called a cheater tin, that sits more deeply inside the main tin and reduces the volume – which is better for shaking a single small drink. I like to use a tin-on-tin set with a cheater when I travel. It allows for a lot of flexibility and takes up little space as they all fit inside each other.
Parisian / French shaker
This is by far the least common shaker but it’s making up a lot of ground and for good reason. The two piece Parisian (my preferred term) shaker is a hybrid of the two above types with the advantages of both – apart from the Cobbler’s built-in strainer. It gives good volume, ease of use, and looks very elegant. There is, however, one big caveat; the fit of the two halves is absolutely critical. If they tend to bind the shaker seals very tightly (vacuum effect) and can be a pain in the ass to get open, which in turn will make you look like a complete amateur. Put your ice in the larger part and mix your ingredients in the upturned top part then pour the top into the bottom and shake. A simple twist and lift motion will break the seal. Unless you bought a dodgy one. Again, a separate strainer is required. The Parisian shaker has almost all the advantages of a tin-on-tin Boston shaker and none of the downsides and is easily my preferred shaker for general use.
And, yes, I am in love with my Parisian shaker. Her name is Marianne and she’s a stainless steel Schott Zwiesel that opens perfectly every time.
For details on what to do with your shaker see my article on shaking.