Cocktail 101

All the basics of the bar.

Cocktail Gear: A Good, Cheap Boston Shaker

June was an unexpectedly hectic month in the Cocktail 101 household. We found ourselves uprooted, from Rhode Island to Brooklyn, as my wife started a new job in midtown Manhattan. We had been planning a move, but only within Providence; when this particular job offer came along, however, she had to take it.

So we quickly finished packing the apartment, and sent our belongings into storage. We took an SUV's worth of immediately necessary items, along with ourselves, our baby, and our two cats, and stayed in a hotel north of Boston for just over a week, while my wife finished up her work there. In short order, we found an apartment and then moved ourselves, our few necessary items, the baby, and the cats.

But all our stuff was still in a storage warehouse in Providence—including (oops!) my bar gear.

So we found a large Target, deep in the guts of Brooklyn, in a neighborhood most Manhattanites have never heard of. We set out, looking for a mixing glass of some sort. A regular pint glass would work perfectly, I felt. Oh, we were also looking for items of far lesser importance: a shower caddy, curtains for the windows, cat food, Ziploc bags, toilet paper. You know, luxury items. Not a daily necessity like a mixing glass.

I was growing desperate. I grabbed every glass at Target and examined its suitability for martini-stirring. A set of four pint glasses featuring Marvel Comics heroes? Sure, that can work. An acrylic tumbler with a rooster on it? Well, maybe—it would lack the thermal properties of glass, but it'll work in a pinch.

Then my wife's eagle eyes spotted it. A three-piece set from Libbey Glass, labelled a Bar Mixing Set. A tall mixing glass (not acrylic), a mixing tin, and a strainer.

Twenty bucks. $20. Bingo. I picked it up and put it in the shopping cart.

Then it dawned on me. We were buying a Boston shaker at Target.

I cannot emphasize enough how unusual this felt. I think the last time I was this startled by an item in a store was when a Kroger I shopped at in Indiana started stocking sushi, in the 1990s.

You see, in most house-ware or department stores, you can't usually find a Boston shaker. A three-piece cobbler shaker, sure. Pint glasses, yes, usually. But Boston shakers? Not so common. And if you can find them, they're often from companies with European names and they cost $50. You can find them shelved near the bottled fish stock concentrate and the electric egg cooker.

A simple, functional, and inexpensive Boston shaker, of the type most bartenders use, though? I never thought I'd see one in a mass-market retailer.

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[Photograph: Jennifer Hess]

Stop Talking, Where's the Review?

So is it any good, this Target find?

Absolutely. It's just like any other metal-and-glass Boston shaker. I described the proper use of a Boston shaker in an earlier article, but I'll reiterate it briefly here:

  1. Add ingredients to glass.
  2. Add ice to glass.
  3. Place tin over top of glass. Tap sharply on tin with heel of hand to seal the shaker. This creates a vacuum. Test the seal by lifting the tin. If the glass rises up from the counter or bar, you've got a proper seal.
  4. Shake. Break apart the shaker by tapping the heel of your hand against the lip of the mixing tin, near the glass.
  5. Strain cocktail.

The Libbey set lets you do all of this just as you should. It doesn't leak, it doesn't dribble, and it doesn't feel flimsy or fragile. The glass is solid and thick.

Moreover, the glass and tin are large. This is easily the largest Boston shaker set in my collection. The glass holds 18 ounces and the tin, about 30 ounces. The large capacity lets ice and liquid really move inside the shaker, making mixing more efficient than in smaller shakers.

The glass has measurements on the side, in ounces. They're accurate, but I find them unnecessary. They're only marked in full ounces, not in fractions, so if you need, say, 1 1/2 ounces of something, you need another measuring tool.

My biggest problem with the set is that I hate the strainer that comes with it. It's a Hawthorne strainer, the kind with the metal coil. The coil is looser than it should be, and the entire strainer seems flimsy and cheap.

My only other quibble with the Libbey set is an aesthetic one. The glass comes with recipes printed on the side, along with cutesy drawings of cocktails. I really like the retro-kitsch value of that, but not everyone will.

I'm Convinced! How Do I Buy One?

This should be the place where I link out to the Target.com site, so you can order the shaker online and have it shipped straight to your kitchen. Unfortunately, I can't. Target's website baffles me; some things that are available in stores aren't available online, and vice versa.

But Amazon's got you covered, and you can buy it here for around $20.

About the author: Michael Dietsch approaches life with a hefty dash of bitters. He recently relocated to Brooklyn, New York. You can follow him on twitter at @dietsch.

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