The Evolution of the Cocktail Shaker

The first quarter of the nineteenth century saw a revolution in the manner in which spirits were served and consumed. Until that time, liquor was generally consumed straight, and warm, or, as the starring ingredient in a communal punch bowl, where your preferred spirit or spirits were stirred (not shaken) with syrups and fruits, and then ladled out to all-comers. But as tastes changed, and with the introduction of ice to the American bar room, a new era was born, wherein mixed drinks and the cocktail were given birth.

Pioneers in the mixology field, most notably America's preeminent bartender, Jerry Thomas, devised revolutionary individual mixed drinks, combining spirits, syrups, sugars, bitters, and ice, served in individual glasses to thirsty customers, one at a time. But, one did not
just toss these ingredients into a glass. They had to be skillfully combined, and that required both a method and new tools. The leaders in the burgeoning bartending industry knew that stirring delicate ingredients, as was the common practice with large punch bowls, was detrimental to the process, and pretty difficult when the glassful to be mixed was mostly full of large ice boulders, and they soon learned what Ian Fleming and Sir James Bond told us all more than a century later, "Shaken, not stirred".

But, how to shake? And with what tool? Looking back, the solution may seem simple to us now, but it was not back then. Believe it or not, the first solution was to take two glasses, and actually toss liquid from one up into the air, with the thought that it could be caught in the second glass. It worked, some of the time.
Variations of the theme quickly developed. One was to rapidly pour the contents back and forth between the two glasses, widening the distance as speed increased, generally to about a two foot distance. Still, spillage prevailed. Eventually, the thought of the two glasses actually touching came to mind, and the earliest beginnings of the cocktail shaker came about: Take a glass and a larger tin tumbler, and stick the two together with liquid inside, and a suction occurs, and the contents can actually be shaken as it transfers back and forth
between the two glasses. Spirit historians have actually traced this development to New York City in 1848.

Not much later, the British made a similar discovery, but they generally used two tin glasses, while the American version was almost uniformly one of glass and one of metal. That American version eventually developed into what became known as the Boston Shaker, which still today, consists of two vessels, one glass, and one metal, attached by suction.

The additional piece essential to properly shaking any mixed drink, was the strainer. For the Boston Shaker glass-and-metal style, a separate tool was needed, and various styles of strainers also were developed, most notably and popular being the Hawthorne strainer.
Though devised in Merry Old England, the British version of the shaker was also in wide use in America by the 1870s. Eventually becoming known as the Cobbler Shaker, this devise evolved quite differently. First, the two metal glasses developed into two halves of a single apparatus that attached together. Also, the strainer developed into a third attached element that became a part of the Cobbler shaker's top half, so that a separate tool was no longer needed. Thus, the British version of two metal halves evolved over time into the common cocktail shaker in general use today.


©2012 by theHoundDawg for Nifty-Home-Bar.com
No reprints or any commercial usage without written permission other than linking to this page, which is encouraged.