Published September 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
Bartenders ask: Shaken or Stirred? We asked: Cobbler or Boston style?
Cocktail shakers bring a sense of style to a party, but for our tests, we focused on more pragmatic concerns: We wanted a comfortable-to-use, leak-proof shaker that would combine liquors and flavorings effectively, efficiently chill the liquid, and pour the mixture easily into a v-shaped martini glass. We encountered a lot more problems than we anticipated.
Before we could start testing, we had to narrow the field. At the time of publication, eBay alone listed 641 shakers for sale, very few of which were identical. Most shakers sold today, however, are one of two types: cobbler (glass, stainless steel, or acrylic) or Boston (a combination of glass and stainless steel).
The cobbler shaker is the type usually found in home bars. It's normally made of three pieces: a metal, glass, or acrylic base, a lid (usually stainless steel) with a built-in strainer, and a small cap that fits over the lid. Ice and liquid are added to the base, the top sections are attached, the mixture is shaken, the cap is removed, and the liquid is poured through the strainer into the glass. The problems? The lid wasn't snug enough, so liquid sprayed everywhere during shaking; the lid fit too snugly, so that once the metal contracted from the chill, we had to wait for the metal to warm up and expand before we could unscrew the lid; the strainer holes in the lid were so small that surface tension caused liquid to pool on top of the holes, causing overflow when we removed the cap.
The Boston shaker is the shaker of choice for professionals; when handled properly, it affords the bartender better control and security against leakage. It's a two-tumbler operation, in which a large metal tumbler is inverted over a smaller glass tumbler and the two are then shaken. If arranged properly, a seal forms between the two tumblers that prohibits leaking; a light tap just below the joint will break the seal. The problems? The making and breaking of the seal, both of which take practice. Some of our testers complained that the Boston shaker demands a two-handed, two-step operation: After shaking, the tumbler is topped with a separate strainer that holds back the ice when the cocktail is poured. That said, two of our testers who had been professional bartenders in previous careers, recommend the Boston style for anyone who mixes a lot of drinks.
For most home-entertaining purposes, though, we recommend the safer, easier-to-use cobbler style. We developed three general preferences in this category. First, we preferred stainless steel to glass and acrylic. Stainless steel shakers chill more quickly, the material doesn't break, and the lids on these shakers formed the most secure seal. (In fact, despite a rubber ring, one of the glass shakers was the worst leaker.) Second, we found that the shakers made with stronger stainless steel (18/10 or 18/8) rather than lighter stainless steel were better at managing the contracting/expanding problem that creates tight, hard-to-remove lids, though there were exceptions. Finally, we found that the strainer holes had to be large enough to prevent the surface tension that causes liquid to pool on top of the strainer after shaking.
A cocktail shaker is an essential bar tool for any master of mixology (or even a talented amateur). Our favorite was a sleek, champion chiller which easily dispenses drinks into a tumbler or goblet—won our testing, despite its occasionally slippery grip once filled with chilled cocktails. So when Metrokane, its manufacturer, introduced another product, we pitted the two models in a head-to-head Tom Collins contest to determine the true mix master. One immediately bested the other: Just as with the travel coffee mug it resembles, its double-walled canister prevented pesky condensation, so you get dry, slip-free gripping. Meanwhile, its other features—a convenient pop-up spout and a leak-free lid (make sure you feel it snap shut before shaking)—were equally impressive. It may not be as slick-looking as its predecessor, but this shaker shook out as our new favorite.