The Basics Bar Tools

Home Bar Basics: Everything You Need to Know About Cocktail Shakers

Image: Tim Nusog

You’ve finally carved away precious square footage to make room for that most sacred of household additions: the home bar. But turning out top-notch drinks while in your slippers takes more than good intentions. There are bottles to buy, tools to agonize over and techniques to master. Follow us as we help you navigate your home bar basics.

Technically, you don’t need a cocktail shaker; any container with a tight-fitting lid will do in a pinch. But it sure makes things a lot easier. Not only does a shaker quickly mingle a drink’s ingredients, its metal composition drives down the temperature and dilutes the ice to give it balance. Citrus-driven sips, or those that use eggs or milk, glean a frothy surface that can give your cocktail a light and airy mouthfeel. In short, when a drink isn’t stirred or blended, you have to shake it to wake it. Though you can spot a few shaker styles on the bartop, two basic types exist.

The Backstory

As far back as 7,000 B.C., people were using closed gourds as jars. In 1520, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés recounted seeing Aztec ruler Montezuma serve a frothy cacao-based drink from a similar vessel. Up until the mid-19th century, bartenders mixed drinks by “rolling” or “throwing” them, i.e. pouring their ingredients back and forth between two glasses, but in 1872, William Harnett of Brooklyn registered a patent for a device to efficiently mix up six cocktails at a time. It consisting of six covered tumblers and a plunger and rod system, which when activated caused the tumblers to move up and down to incorporate their contents. It didn’t prove to be an overwhelming success.

Cobbler shaker, left, and Boston shaker. Tim Nusog

But in 1884, Edward Hauck, also of Brooklyn, created and patented a three-piece tool with a built-in strainer and metal top, which eventually came to be called a cobbler shaker after the popularity of the drink of the same name. The invention of stainless steel in the early 20th century made it the preferred material. Prohibition, metal rationing during World War II and the cocktail’s dark age, when the blender ruled all, led to a dip in the shaker’s popularity, but the current cocktail renaissance has seen its overwhelming resurgence.

Try this: Cobbler shaker

What Experts Say

Shingo Gokan, the creative director at Himitsu in Atlanta, has a propensity for the cobbler style. “This shaker is better for mixing and makes it easy to control the aeration and dilution,” he says. Plus, a little bonus: The cap can stand in for a one-ounce jigger.

The ice also stays in the cobbler shaker, eliminating the need for a Hawthorne or julep strainer. But depending on the brand and style, the large bottom section can contract so much when it gets cold that the strainer and lid can be all but impossible to remove. This is where quality and craftsmanship come into play. (Gokan is partial to Birdy tools).

Another drawback to the cobbler? The holes in the strainer can be large enough to let through ice chips and herbs, says Jacob Ryan, a bartender at Mother’s Ruin in New York City. Enter the Boston shaker. This style consists of a pint-size metal tin into which ingredients are poured. The whole thing is then covered with a pint glass. To separate the two after shaking, you often need to smack the metal tin with the palm of your hand a few inches below the rim. You’ll also need a separate strainer since one isn’t built in.

Try this: Boston shaker

Cobbler shaker, left, and Boston shaker. Tim Nusog

“They are quick, clean and easy to use,” says Ryan. “Not much to knock there.” The Boston shaker’s main drawback, he says, is the potential for glass breakage, along with the fact that it requires a bit more skill and finesse.

The Parisian or French shaker is similar in style to the Boston shaker, but its pint glass is replaced by a smaller second metal tin. It is sleek and retro looking, gets cocktails super cold and does also require a separate strainer. “They are much more durable,” says Ryan. “The risk of breaking your Boston glass is gone, and you can ramp up the speed a bit behind the bar.”

Try this: Parisian / French shaker

The Takeaway

“Boston is more about speed,” says Gokan. As with other bar tools, though, this isn’t so much a concern at home. “There are some great vintage cobblers, or even Parisian shakers, that would enhance any home bar or cocktail cart,” says Ryan. “The need for speed and efficiency isn’t there, so you can get creative and explore what suits you best.”

If you can, Gokan recommends mixing the same drink (say, a classic Daiquiri) with several different styles to practice your technique, get more comfortable and decide which one works better for you. “It’s important to use your wrist and snap properly when shaking the cocktail,” he says. When shopping, be sure to buy a high-quality brand with a substantial feel to lessen the chances that the pieces will get stuck together, which can be annoying.