The cooler shakers

Prefer your martinis shaken, not stirred? Then you'd better get the right tool for the job. And when the party's over, you'll have a stylish memento
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The Independent Online

The cocktail shaker addresses itself to one of the least pressing design problems imaginable, and then solves it with elegant efficiency. The problem is this: how to combine the ingredients of a drink, to chill them by bringing them into contact with ice, and then to strain the mixture so that the ice stays behind and doesn't get into the finished drink and dilute it as it melts.

The cocktail shaker addresses itself to one of the least pressing design problems imaginable, and then solves it with elegant efficiency. The problem is this: how to combine the ingredients of a drink, to chill them by bringing them into contact with ice, and then to strain the mixture so that the ice stays behind and doesn't get into the finished drink and dilute it as it melts.

Now, if you were simply being functionalist about it, you could shake up your cocktail in a screw-topped jam jar, and then pour it through a tea strainer and you would certainly have performed all the processes of a cocktail shaker, but frankly, you wouldn't look too stylish doing it. And the cocktail is nothing if not stylish.

The earliest shakers are American, from the end of the 19th century, and look much like tea or coffee pots, with a removable cap screwed on to the end of the spout. Often made of silver or pewter, these can be extremely swanky but they seem more Victorian than Jazz Age, and they're not very easy to shake. This style, more a pitcher than a shaker really, has never completely disappeared, but the classic, slightly urn-shaped, slightly bullet-shaped object that we're familiar with was established by the end of the First World War when the German company Gorham made one from an artillery shell.

This is reckoned to be the largest cocktail shaker ever made, and though not exactly practical, it does successfully demonstrate the truism that a good big'un will always be better than a good little'un. Occasionally you will see miniature individual shakers and they do have some charm, but they don't work very well. There has to be room for ice and ingredients to swirl around and make serious contact. So size does matter.

The classic shaker has three crucial components: a wide-mouthed cup into which ice and liquid can be put, a lid with holes that will hold back the ice, then a cap which seals the shaker but can be removed to allow the liquid to flow through the lid after the drink is made. Once these are in place, then designers can go wild.

As Simon Khachadourian demonstrates in his recent book, The Cocktail Shaker, shakers can be very different things to different people. Some are precious objects, some are hard-working tools of the trade, some are kitsch extravaganzas. They come in all sorts of materials: Bakelite, plastic, aluminium, even Japanese lacquer and porcelain. You'll find people who claim that a proper gin martini can only be produced in a shaker made of silver. Of course, you'll also find people who claim that a martini shouldn't be shaken at all, but that's another story.

My own favourites tend to be made of glass. The visual appeal is always an important part of a cocktail, and to be able to look into the shaker and see the drink being formed is a pleasure in itself.

But plain glass often isn't thought to be enough, so designers and manufacturers use coloured glass, or they emboss images of galleons or golfers or pheasants onto the surface. Some of this can be pretty tacky and yet I'll always regret not buying the shaker I came across in a Toronto antique shop a few years ago that was decorated with cartoons of drunken beavers.

The most fun, though not necessarily the most functional, shakers are those designed to look like something else; dumbbells, zeppelins, lighthouses, rockets. And if you think you can detect elements of phallic display and anxiety here, you're almost certainly right. More than that, I suspect these shakers are just trying to be very manly, in case anyone might think there was something effete about a man who drank cocktails.

Jollier, and less sexually problematic, are the ones made in the form of penguins, hourglasses, women's legs. Some of these are available as cheapo modern knock-offs. I'm sincerely hoping someone has the nerve to do a reproduction of JA Henckels's travelling cocktail set: a model of an aeroplane that could be dismantled, its wings becoming hip flasks and the fuselage a shaker.

Failing that, I just hope that someone will come up with an example featuring drunken beavers.

Geoff Nicholson's novel 'Bedlam Burning' is published by Gollancz. The illustrations here are taken from 'The Cocktail Shaker' by Simon Khachadourian published by Philip Wilson, £25

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