This review was last updated in August 2020.
If you like making your own cocktails at home or are simply bouncing around some home bar ideas, chances are you’ll require a shaker. While some cocktails can be stirred (like a manhattan) or muddled (a technique perhaps made most famous by the mighty mojito), lots of them need a more vigorous mix. This is where a cocktail shaker comes in.
Here, we explain the difference between three popular cocktail shaker styles – cobbler, Boston and French – and bring you our favourite products for each category. Happy mixing!
The best cobbler shakers
Also known as a Manhattan or three-piece shaker, the cobbler is the simplest style of cocktail shaker to get to grips with, and probably the most familiar to home cocktail makers. A product of the late Victorian era, the cobbler – with its tapered tin, lid with integrated strainer, and small cap to cover the strainer – is the quintessential silhouette of a cocktail shaker.
On the cobbler’s plus side, there’s the not inconsiderable benefit of it being self-contained. It’s hard to make a mess with it – simply add the ingredients, affix the top and the cap and get to shaking. Cobblers are lighter and smaller than Boston-style shakers, which is of benefit to those with smaller hands, or who don’t need the making of a daiquiri to be a workout. They tend to be passed over in professional settings, but this has more to do with the practicalities of the working environment than it does the quality of the finished cocktail.
On the downside, we’ve not seen a strainer in a cobbler that strains quite as well as we’d like, so ice chips and fruit pulp can sometimes pass through to the glass. A small sieve held underneath obviates that problem (and double-straining is good practice for cocktails with fine pips or similar debris). The narrowness of the built-in strainer can sometimes get clogged by the ice, leaving you having to faff about to pour out the last of your drinks before melted water dilutes the fun out of them.
One other issue is that cobblers are vulnerable to seizing up as they get cold from use, so opening them to pour without splashing the drink outside the glass can be easier said than done. Lastly, the flipside to their potentially more manageable size is that they have a smaller capacity for ingredients. With larger cobblers, you’ll have no trouble making a couple at once, but small (300ml or less) models quickly veer towards the ornamental.
Rusty Barrel Mayfair cocktail shaker set
This set comprises a classic three-piece shaker, accompanied by a 25ml/50ml jigger, wooden muddling stick, bar spoon, pourer, hawthorne strainer and small recipe booklet. The shaker itself is generously sized, and is more than enough to make a few cocktails at once. It has an archetypal form and clean, mirrored finish to the stainless steel, with the company’s branding etched onto the front.
There was no problem with the seal when shaking, and it broke apart without fuss after use. A small ridge on the lid helps with gripping the shaker when it’s cold and recalcitrant. The accessories are all of a similar standard and finish, except the muddler, which is formed of a single piece of dark finished wood.
While a hawthorne strainer shouldn’t be needed with a cobbler, the addition rounds out the set nicely, should you get tired of the shaker’s integrated strainer. The recipe book provides simple instructions for making the classics, and there’s a helpful card – photographically annotated – with tips on using everything included.
The best Boston shakers
The most common style to find in a cocktail bar, Boston shakers are much the same in principle and design as they were nearly two centuries ago. There’s a larger outer tin (known as a ‘can’), usually over a pint in capacity, and then a slightly smaller glass that is upended into the can.
A firm tap with the heel of the hand on the upended glass’s base seals the two together, and then you can get to shaking. When the smaller glass is swapped out for another tin, they are referred to as a tin-on-tin, imaginatively enough.
Boston shakers have the virtue of simplicity – there are only two parts, after all. You get a larger capacity, which makes for more effective shaking, even if you’re making a double batch of your cocktail. They are extremely easy to clean, which allows for faster cocktail making. This is all useful when hosting, even if you don’t hold aspirations to work at the Savoy’s American Bar.
The downsides are that you need some practice and a degree of assurance to enjoy those benefits. It is a rare situation in which hitting glass with your hand is recommended, so it takes a few goes to feel at ease with this restrained use of force. Once you’re comfortable with sealing a Boston, it’s quick and intuitive. But, do remember to pay attention and hold both ends firmly, or the room may get an impromptu redecoration.
The fact that a Boston shaker is bigger and, with the glass, heavier, makes it a slightly more physical proposition. Those with smaller hands may find a cobbler or French shaker more amenable.
While the Boston shaker should always be made with thick, strengthened glass, it is possible for it to break. This risk is marginal, however, unless you have an unnecessarily violent opening technique. With tin-on-tin, you lose the ability to see how things are going (and a touch of showiness), but you gain robustness and the advantage of the shaker and cocktail chilling more quickly.
The last thing to note is that with a Boston, you will need a separate strainer. The most common form is the hawthorne, a perforated disc which holds a coil behind it. Holding the hawthorne flat against the mouth of the can sites the coil snugly where it can keep that frozen water out of the glass as you decant your drink. If you fancy yourself more adventurous in your cocktail interests, then taking a little time to get a feel for a Boston shaker is well worthwhile.
Bar@DrinkStuff Boston tin & glass set
This shaker set is no-nonsense and functional, and that’s just the way it should be. The stainless steel tin and the robust glass won’t win any awards for flair, but they feel good in the hand and seem like they’ll last. You could possibly mark down the set for the fact the external welding on the tin isn’t seamless, but that’s not unusual and doesn’t affect the drink you’re making.
Seams or no, the weighting is just fine and helps the can keep its shape. Most importantly for a Boston shaker, it reliably formed a decent seal after a firm tap, something some other Boston shakers we tested were far less consistent about. While cocktails do lend themselves to an air of luxury – and you can certainly spend an awful lot on accessories should you fancy it – this is a fine example of something very simple and inexpensive doing the job right.
Cocktail Kingdom was founded just over a decade ago by Greg Boehm, an American who is obsessed with cocktails and their history. In the company’s headquarters in New York’s Flatiron building is his personal library of some 3,800 books, dating all the way back to the dawn of the cocktail.
As you might imagine, Cocktail Kingdom is a company that specialises in the higher-end of cocktail-making accessories – especially accoutrements that have fallen out of the spotlight – and often collaborates with notable bartenders on their ranges. It should be noted that as they ship from New York, there’s a higher threshold for free delivery. Delivery charges are greater below that for smaller orders than they would be from a UK store.
At the rather less extravagant end of things are the Koriko weighted shaking tins. Available in a few different finishes, we reviewed the stainless steel ones. While not strikingly different from other tin-on-tin shakers available, they feel good in the hand, with a light but noticeable weighting on each tin’s base.
Along with a good balance, they seal very well and separate with a decent tap each time. The apparent build quality is good – you can see why the company has cachet amongst the high-end.
The best French shakers
While it only predates the cobbler by a few years, the French (or Parisian) shaker has been seen as far back as 1878. In one sense, they are akin to a Boston, as they come in two parts and require a separate strainer. In another, they resemble the cobbler, as they share a similar silhouette. Generally possessed of an elegant form that lends itself to Art Deco styling, they are somewhat more handsome than the Boston. And without requiring the third piece to cap the strainer, as with a cobbler, the shape can flow a little more excitingly.
Like a Boston shaker, the two halves fit together to form a seal, but with French shakers, the top half tapers inward to join neatly with the bottom. This makes the French shaker rather less intimidating to get to grips with, and allows you to get on with the serious business of knocking up that sour without having to worry if you’re going to baptise yourself in its constituent parts.
There are slight trade-offs, as the elegance of the shape comes at the cost of the Boston’s larger capacity. Similarly, the ease of creating the seal also means it can’t entirely avoid the risk of seizing up in the manner of a cobbler. And, of course, you need a strainer.
Despite having a slightly longer pedigree than the cobbler, the French shaker has not had the same presence in the cocktail world. This is hopefully changing – we’d like them to have their moment in the sun.
Beaumont Mezclar copper-plated French shaker
Beaumont make an enormous range of professional bar equipment, from optic dispensers to bottle bins, but outside the trade it has a lower profile than you might expect. This is a French shaker from its Mezclar range, the high-end cocktail tools offering.
A pleasing mixture of the classic and contemporary in its outline, there’s a strong hint of the 1920s in its form, but with a decidedly modern touch to the fine details. Clean-flowing lines lead to a flat top, and the entire shaker has a gleaming, light copper-coloured finish.
While the glossy finish gave the initial impression that it wouldn’t seal well for shaking, there were no problems on that front. This is a capacious shaker, well-suited to aerating your cosmo, and it detaches without too much fuss after. Appealingly on-trend in appearance and fully functional, this is a great shaker for those who have the accessories already.
VonShef’s offering comes as part of a set, alongside a muddler, hawthorne strainer, bar spoon, sieve, 25ml/50ml jigger, two pourers and recipe booklet. While the shaker itself has a classic urn form with an Art Deco feel, this particular edition has been coated with a modern matte black finish. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, it is good to see something different, especially without having to climb up the price scale.
The matte coating seems hard-wearing, and resists abrasion impressively. I wouldn’t expect the entire set to remain perfectly pristine over a the years, but the finish won’t be garnishing your espresso martini.
While the VonShef shaker is slightly smaller than the Mezclar, it’s still a decent size for making a double batch. With a narrower profile, it’s very manageable, and the finish helps with the grip. It seals well and reliably. The top of the upper half also has enough of a concave shape to it to aid in getting a decent hold when separating the halves after shaking. This has the feel of a dependable piece of kit, as do the accessories, with enough aesthetic flair to set it apart.
How to use a cocktail shaker
This review was last updated in August 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you use a cocktail shaker you love? Let us know in the comments below…