Tips for beginners: Cocktail shakers

September 8th, 2007

If there is one tool that is absolutely essential for making cocktails, it is the cocktail shaker. Whether you’re shaking up an Aviation, or stirring your Martini or Manhattan in the mixing tin/glass, your cocktail shaker is certain to be the most used piece of your bar equipment.

The practice of using two containers, and moving a combination of ingredients (be they liquid or solid) between the two to help mix them, has been around for thousands of years. However, the cocktail shaker as we know it today probably developed when a barman was using this method with two glasses or tins, one slightly larger than the other. The difference in size allowed them to be joined together and shaken – and the cocktail shaker was born.

There are now three main types of cocktail shaker: the Boston shaker, the cobbler shaker, and the less common French shaker, sometimes called a Parisian shaker. No matter which of the three styles you choose, it’s important to make sure it is big enough to allow for plenty of ice to be packed in, and for plenty of space to shake the ice around. Other than that, the choice is largely down to personal preference, but each has its own pros and cons which are outlined below…

Cobbler shaker

Cobbler shaker

The cobbler shaker is the one most people (myself included) start out with, and consists of a large metal mixing tin, a metal lid with a built-in strainer, and a smaller metal cap to cover the strainer. These are perfect to get started with as they don’t require any further tools, and it is easy to fit the parts together and make a drink.

However, they can often be very difficult to open once they have cooled from the ice you put in them. They also get very cold (almost painful) to the touch, and due to the small strainer and the need to almost invert the shaker, the ice can often block the strainer, making it the slowest to pour of all the shakers.

Being the easiest to use, and the most widely available, the cobbler shaker is the best shaker to get started with on your cocktail adventures. Consider buying the WMF Manhattan Stainless Steel Cocktail Shaker or the OXO Cocktail Shaker.

Boston shaker

Boston shaker

The boston shaker is simpler in design than the cobbler shaker, consisting of a thick, often tempered, mixing glass and a slightly larger metal tumbler. The ingredients are poured in to the mixing glass, ice is added, and the metal tumbler is then placed on top of this and sealed shut with a firm whack. This and the cooling of the ice creates a vacuum seal which keeps the two glasses together.

Once shaken the two parts can then be separated again by another firm whack, this time using your wrist and hitting against the edge of the metal tumbler where it comes in to contact with the mixing glass. This can be difficult to get the hang of at first, and you may think the two parts are permanently sealed together. However, with a bit of practice it soon becomes an easy task, and much faster than trying to ease off the lid of a cobbler shaker.

Because the Boston shaker has no built-in strainer, a hawthorn strainer is required to keep the ice in the tin whilst pouring the drink. This strainer fits neatly over the metal part of the shaker (see above), and is designed so you can hold it in place with just one finger whilst pouring the drink. Although slightly more effort, once you have learned to use a Boston shaker it is much faster and easier to make drinks with, especially if you are creating several one after another.

The Boston shaker is a great upgrade for those who have mastered the cobbler shaker. While using it probably won’t improve your cocktails, you will find yourself making your drinks faster. Consider the WMF Boston Cocktail Shaker or the Rosle Boston Shaker.

French shaker

The final type, the French shaker, is essentially a cobbler shaker minus the built-in stainer. It consists of a large mixing tin, and a metal lid that fits over the top of this. Like the Boston shaker, it requires the use of a hawthorn strainer to keep the ice out of the drink when pouring. French shakers are relatively rare but gaining in popularity.

Whether you prefer this over the Boston shaker is a matter of personal taste, but should you decide the French shaker is for you, consider the WMF Deco Stainless Steel Cocktail Shaker.


Of course, the shaker isn’t the only piece of barware you will want to pick up. For a look at the other tools and gadgets available to help you mix up your drinks, check back tomorrow.

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Posted in Tips for beginners

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3 responses to “Tips for beginners: Cocktail shakers”

  1. Phil Phil says:

    When I was first looking for a Boston shaker, I was appalled by how expensive they were– the WMF one is $40. I then found a metal half at Surfas (https://www.surfasonline.com/products/6797.cfm) for under $3 and I use a pint glass for the top. I like the OXO Hawthorn strainer, which has the nice ergonomics that OXO’s known for.

  2. Doug Winship Doug Winship says:

    I use the Cobbler Shaker (and own about seven, in various sizes) for one reason: Aesthetics.

    The Boston Shaker is just utilitarian. It is more efficient. It is much faster. But I make drinks for myself, or a few friends at a time, so time is not an issue. What is, is the simple joy of the experience. The Cobbler is evocative of a more elegant lifestyle.

    Now, having said that, there are reasons that I have seven shakers. One is the collector in me. But the most important is the point you make about stuck lids, especially under temperature changes. Several shakers just sit there and look pretty. The ones I use are ones that have tested to still function when cold!

  3. Jay Jay says:

    Wow that shaker tin is stupidly cheap Phil! Is it just a regular pint glass you use? I don’t think I’d have the confidence to hit a pint glass in fear of it breaking, but maybe that says more about the quality of my pint glasses than anything…

    Doug – I agree the cobbler shaker is probably the best looking of all the shakers, although some of the French shakers have a very sleek aesthetic that appeals to the minimalist in me.

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