Cocktail shakers come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes each with their advantages and downsides. Below is a (incomplete) guide to some of the more popular ones and why you’d want them. We’ll split them into a couple of main groups, Boston style and three piece style.
These are the traditional image of a cocktail shaker. The tapered shape of the tin base, topped off with either a domed or angled lid with an integrated strainer and a removable cap. These can range from $10 up to hundreds and come in a range of finishes from bronze and brass, through the more common silver and chrome to brushed aluminium. You can buy them in sizes from 10oz up to 28oz commonly, and they are often sold even as novelty items in Christmas gift sets made from perspex and plastics, accompanied by a range of embarrassing novelty items to decorate your drinks. These shakers can look exceptionally classy in hotels and other high end bars, but I personally find them a little impractical for use in high volume bars. They can be good to sell a full shaker of cosmopolitans or the like to a table so that they can easily pour their own drinks from the shaker without having to strain the ice manually – sort of like a table pitcher for straight up drinks. Three piece shakers can make a nice decorative addition to home bars, but unless you’re working in a low volume, high class bar, I’d steer clear of these for work. Its not uncommon for these to seize closed when you shake a really cold drink as the metal contracts and can be very difficult to remove.
The Boston shaker is comprised of a tin (very much like the bottom half of a three piece) and a boston glass. These are generally far more versatile as the boston glass can be used to make stirred drinks like martinis, you can use either the glass to strain or switch it for a hawthorne or julep strainer, the tins are great for flair and they stack together really nicely for storage or transport (very useful for event bartenders). The tin is usually around 28oz in size with a 16oz mixing glass.
Weighted Vs Non Weighted
Some mixing tins are fitted with a re-enforced base (usually just spot welded on at three points in my experience) which for flair bartenders will affect the way the tin spins in the air by moving it’s centre of gravity. There is no right answer for which of these is a “better” spin, however the weighted style can be easier to perform tin stalls in my experience. Normal, polished stainless steel mixing tins, which are the most common used are generally between $3-10 each, regardless of whether they’re weighted or not, though you can occasionally find them as low as $1 if a supplier is over stocked with one style or another – when you find these, stock up! Bear in mind that the bases of weighted tins can sometimes detach – in this case you either are left with an unweighted tin or you can re-attach the base with coloured insulating tape (like electricians tape) which is also a handy way to identify your personal tins, and can give a little more grip for flairing.
Powder Coated Tins:
Powder coated tins handle just like regular stainless steel tins but have a solid colour (or printed) coating over the metal. These are great for competition and many flair bartenders use white coated tins so that they’re more visible during routines, although a variety of colours are available. You could choose colour’s to match your bar’s branding or a sponsor’s colour and add a logo sticker if you’re trying to win those extra few points in a flair or mixology competition. Do be warned however that the powder finish on these tins is prone to chipping when the tins hit each other or bounce off bar tops, so if you want these for a competition consider picking up some plain tins for the practice room and keeping them in the best condition you can for competition day. $5-12 a piece in general.
Vinyl Coated Tins:
These are covered with a coating of rubbery vinyl to about 1” from the lip of the tin. This gives you amazing grip while flairing, however because of the coating and it’s texture, you will not be able to perform nested tin moves where they split (if you find a way, I want to know about it!) as they will stick together. They are perfect however if you’re learning new bottle and tin moves when combined with a practice bottle, and are also much quieter if you drop them as the coating absorbs a lot of the vibration from the tin. Generally around $7 each. Tip from experience – don’t wash these too hot or mix hot chocolate in these, it seems like a good idea as your hand is insulated from the heat, but the vinyl will bubble and peel off, ruining the finish!
I’m not sure if the right word is anodised as I was under the impression this process only worked for aluminium, and I assume the tins are still steel – either way, the finish is very much like anodising, with a metallic coloured finish which is both hard wearing (as it is the actual surface of the metal which is coloured) and smooth allowing the nesting moves that would be possible with naked or powered coated tins. These are great but in the $8-15 range.
In most cases the boston glass will be made from toughened glass to help it resist the rigours of being locked into the mixing tin to seal the shaker on a regular basis, as well as being separated from the tin by striking the edge. Keep an eye on the edge of this glass for chips showing up as they will prevent the glass from sealing properly and could cause the shaker to separate when you least expect it! Around $8 each.
It’s quite possible to find good quality clear plastic Boston glasses which still have a good weight to them and are far more durable than their glass counterparts. These are also often cheaper and perfect for practicing glassware flair without the risk of breakage. $4-8 each.
Many bar suppliers stock 16oz stainless tins, available in almost all the same finishes listed for the shakers above – these will sit inside your regular 20oz and seal them for shaking in the same way as a Boston, and can be used for some great nesting tricks with the shaker. Sadly they’re more often seen on bar tops filled with straws or lost behind a glass washer simply because people don’t know what to do with them! $2-5.
These larger tins sit over the outside of your 28oz allowing you to shake larger drinks volumes, so large rounds of chilled shooters or multiple cosmopolitans – Not seen much in the wild but a great option if you make a lot of kamikazes on a regular basis. $5-7.