The Boston shaker, also known as a “tin”, is by far the most popular of the two different types of shaker available on the market. Holding 28oz of liquid the Boston shaker, combined with either a standard pint glass or a smaller version of itself (often called a “cheater tin”), is the most easily recognized bar tool around the world. Many a cocktail require the use of the Boston shaker and its presence is ubiquitous in all styles of bar, all over the world.
The history of the shaker as a tool for mixing drinks is long, probably as long as the art of mixing flavours itself. Archeological evidence has been found, as far back as 7000BC, showing that drinks were mixed in vessels larger than those we drink from. And, in 1520, Hernando Cortez wrote back from the New World that Aztec people and rulers were mixing cacao drinks in a “golden cylinder shaped container”.
From here the history of the cocktail shaker, as we know it now, is more related to the technique of mixing cocktails. The shaker probably became a part of the bartenders tool kit in the mid-nineteenth century. Before this cocktails were mixed by “rolling” the mixture between two vessels. The theory is that one day someone, probably a tavern or bar owner, put these two vessels, which would’ve been of different sizes, together and shook the contents, probably for dramatic effect. The result was a cocktail with a different mouthfeel, and probably a slightly different flavour profile too, than the ones mixed by just rolling the ingredients.
Thus the technique of shaking was born, and soon to follow would be tools designed for this purpose. These first specifically designed shaking tins were almost certainly similar to the tool we today call the Boston shaker.
Appearance and Variations
Since its inception, the concept of the cocktail shaker has produced many patents promising to make it make better cocktails and many functionless stylistic variations to make it look better. But, simple champions all and the sleek, simple, straight-sided conical shape of what we now call the Boston shaker still reigns supreme.
The Boston shaker is almost always made of stainless steel, this can sometimes be coated with rubber or stained a variety of colours to give it the effect of gold, bronze, copper, etc. This metal construction is actually vital to the success of the cocktail shaken inside the vessel, helping to reduce the temperature inside the shaker and therefore of the ingredients of the cocktail contained inside.
If you’re purchasing a Boston shaker for your home bar it’s probably going to come with either a 16oz glass pint glass or a cheater tin, however you’re going to also want to buy a strainer to help you strain all the ice particles out of your drink. Hawthorne strainers are designed to fit snuggly atop a Boston shaker.
Using the Boston Shaker
Technically, you don’t need a specified shaker to prepare shaken cocktails as any vessel with a tight fitting lid will do, however a tool designed specifically for the job does the job the best. A Boston shaker cannot be used on its own and requires a second part in before it can even start its job. This can either be a second, smaller shaking tin, of 18oz - called a cheater tin - or a standard 16oz pint glass. Both of these fit snuggling inside the Boston shaker and create a nice tight seal so that you don’t end up wearing your cocktail. The Boston shaker often requires the use of another tool, a strainer. Here are the instructions for using a Boston shaker.
- Fill the second part, either the pint glass or the smaller shaking tin, full of ice and measure in the ingredients for your chosen cocktail.
- Position the Boston shaker, at an angle, over the lip of the vessel containing your ingredients and ice. Hold the bottom vessel and give the Boston shaker a tap to create a seal between the two vessels.
- Place one hand on the shaker with either your thumb or bottom two fingers over the base of the shaker. Place the other hand on the other half of your shaking partners, again placing your thumb or bottom two fingers on the base of the vessel. This grip ensures that if the pieces separate then they’re not going to go flying down your bar.
- Face down the bar, do not face your customer whilst shaking - again this in case the pieces of the shaker separate - and shake vigorously for up to thirty seconds. The goal of shaking is to simultaneously chill and dilute the drink without over diluting it.
- When you’re finished shaking, there are a few methods you can use to separate the two parts:
- With the Boston shaker on the bottom, tap the side of the shaker with your hand. A satisfying pop will let you know you’ve broken the seal.
- With the Boston shaker on the bottom squeeze the shaker above where the seal lies between it and the other vessel. You’ll now be able to pull the other vessel out of the shaker.
- Place your Hawthorne strainer on the top of the Boston shaker and engage it so that it will double strain your cocktail, then slowly pour your cocktail into your chosen drinking vessel.
There is no right or wrong way to shake a cocktail, but adjusting how long you shake for, how hard you shake and your shaking motion will allow you to find your personal sweet spot for creating quality shaken cocktails.
Common Cocktails Calling for a Shaker
There is a saying that says “shake it to wake it” and this means that those citrus heavy drinks, or those containing egg whites, need shaking to really amalgamate and bring out their flavours. It stands to reason then that those drinks that contain these ingredients are those that call for shaking. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, as you’ll see from the list below; but it is a good rule of thumb.
- Martini - can also be stirred instead
- Gimlet - can also be stirred instead
- All Sour variations
If you want to know more about shaking, read our article about this technique.