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Shaker Style

December 10, 2010

I like a lot of fancy things.  For example, I like fine crystal wine glasses with large bowls, thin rims, and no seams on the stem.  High quality knives are worth every penny.  My stainless steel All-Clad pans are the workhorse in the kitchen, and I don’t regret any of the money I have spent on good cookware.  Well, I may have gone a bit overboard on the Calphalon back in the day.

But you get the point.  Some things you just have to pony up for if you want to have something good.  But that’s not always the case.  In fact, sometimes it is just the opposite.

Last night I was reminded of this when marciepry asked me, “Are all cocktail shakers created equally? Size? Material? Extra features?”

The short answer is no.  But to paraphrase the immortal words of Silent Bob, there are a lot of fine-looking cocktail shakers in the world, but they don’t all bring you lasagna at work. Most of them just cheat on you.

Maybe I should expand on that.

There are a ton of beautifully designed cocktail shakers on the market.  Some of them are expensive.  Some of them are very expensive.  And for the most part, they are all wrong, primarily because they have put style over substance.  That’s not to say you can’t find a good and expensive cocktail shaker, but your chances are slim.

A cocktail shaker has a serious job to do.  It needs to quickly chill and mix cocktails that require more than a good stirring.  Many of the best cocktails need no shaker at all.  The Martini and the Manhattan both get stirred.  So do the negroni, the rusty nail, and even the grasshopper.  Not that I’m putting the grasshopper in the pantheon.  But I digress.

But the serious job of shaking a cocktail requires the free flow of ice, sprits and mixers within the belly of the shaker.  You want a lot of ice contact, and you don’t want anything mucking it up, like built-in strainers or structural curves.  To properly mix a drink in a shaker, the cocktail also needs room to move.  Small cocktail shakers are very cute, but they are woefully insufficient for actually mixing a drink.

So what you need is pretty simple.  You need a full-sized Boston shaker.

Some assembly is required.  And in some ways it’s like cooking with gas.  At first it may be a little trickier, but once you get the hang of it, the level of control is unparalleled.  If you have ever been to a bar, you’ve seen these in action, because it’s really the only thing bartenders use.  Perhaps you just never knew its proper name.

A Boston shaker has two parts, a mixing tin and a glass.  Mixing tins are cheap.  Just make sure to get a full-sized 28-ounce one.  The glass is a bit tricky.  While it may just look like a pint glass, it’s not.  Well, it is, but it’s tempered.  Ice has this nasty trick of making stuff colder.  When stuff gets colder it becomes fragile.  And when you start shaking fragile things with tremendous force, accidents can happen.  Tempered glass is stronger, and helps prevent accidents.  All the same, it is wise to always shake over the shoulder with the business end of the pint glass pointing away from bystanders.

Restaurant supply stores are a good resource for tempered pint glasses.  So is that whole internet thing.

I build my drink in the pint glass, and then quite literally slam on the mixing tin.  The tin is a bit flexible, and what you are trying to do here is create a seal.  The colder the mixing tin gets, the tighter the seal becomes.  A well-placed chop of the hand will quickly and easily release the two pieces of the shaker.  At this point you can pop in your strainer and pour the drink.

While this chop to release may sound like a hassle, I’ve had more problems pulling apart fancier cocktail shakers than one might imagine.   The cold pieces have a nasty habit of sealing together, which make the second round of drinks a harrowing experience.

If this is intended to be a Christmas gift and a Boston shaker just doesn’t sound fancy enough, you could step it up a notch to include a mixing tin with a leather sleeve.  Because honestly, those mixing tins get really freaking cold, and anything that can protect your poor delicate hands from that is a welcome benefit.

What I like about having a Boston shaker is that it can be used for stirred drinks as well.  All you need is a good long spoon, and possibly a julep strainer.  After all, this is still a game of specialized tools.  Even if the tools aren’t terribly expensive.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2010 12:02 pm

    Yo Dan!

    You are so right… there’s a time to splurge, and a time to go 100% utilitarian! I have this really attractive cocktail shaker that I received as a Christmas present many many years ago. It was from Restoration Hardware and it is shaped like a penguin. While it looks really good, it is a HORRIBLE shaker. I used it once, and it made a mess. The Boston Shaker is the only way to fly!

    Happy Friday!

  2. December 10, 2010 4:28 pm

    There’s only one fundamental flaw in your recommendation — all the cool shakers are cobbler shakers!

    Seriously, I’ll second your endorsement. It’s boston shakers and hawthorn strainers all the way over here — we won’t go near a cobbler shaker if at all possible.

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