“If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity.” The quote is one of the guiding principles of the Shaker philosophy of design. I don’t think religious Shakers approve of alcohol consumption, but it’s a good principle for designing cocktail shakers too. Simple is superior.
Unfortunately, as I learned last week, simple doesn’t always sell. It was my younger sister’s 21st birthday and, being a good bartender brother, I decided to set her up with all the equipment she’ll need to mix up good drinks at home. I thought this would be easy, and most of it was, but finding a cocktail shaker was surprisingly difficult. I went to 6-7 stores looking for a basic shaker and pint glass (a Boston shaker), but only Williams-Sonoma had one, and it was fifty bucks. It was pretty, but it’s just a stainless steel cylinder. If your shaker costs more than your bourbon, you’re either using the wrong shaker or the wrong bourbon.
The shaker every other store had is like the one pictured above. It’s got a lid with strainer, a smaller cap, recipes etched into the side, and an outside cylinder that rotates around the outside to display the ingredients in each drink. This is the kind of thing that might seem like a good idea in concept, but in practice the design is just terrible. How dost it suck? Let me count the ways.
First, the lid and the cap. There’s a reason most bartenders don’t use these. They’re extra parts, and if the steel has contracted from the cold and your hands are wet, they can be hard to separate. All you need is the cylinder and a pint glass. Build the drink in the glass, shake it up, snap off the glass and strain. Easy.
That’s fine for a pro, but maybe you want a shaker with a lid, and maybe you like the idea of having recipes on the side of it. Fine. You’ll change your mind when you actually try these drinks. With room for just 14 of them, the designers should have covered the essentials. Instead they chose drinks like the Dreamsicle and the Bahama Mama. In all my time working as a bartender, no one has asked for a Bahama Mama. Ever. Unless your home is a tiki bar in the tropics, odds are your guests won’t order one either.
Selection aside, you’d hope that they at least got the recipes right. But anyone who tries these recipes is going to get not only a poorly balanced cocktail, but also a weak one — like the Cosmopolitan that calls for just 1 oz of vodka and an entire ounce of cranberry juice. The average person buying this product probably cares more about getting getting buzzed than becoming a stellar bartender, but with just 1 oz of vodka they’re not even going to accomplish that. They will, however, get plenty of vitamin C.
Finally, there’s the way the recipes are laid out. Each ingredient is set one column apart and one row down from previous one, so you need to dial a drink in and look through the gaps in the outer cylinder to see what goes into it. This isn’t just inconvenient, it’s risky. Wet fingers plus a diagonal row of holes cut into steel is a blood-stained cocktail waiting to happen. And it’s so stupidly unnecessary. If they just arranged the ingredients in vertical rows, the shaker wouldn’t even need the outside cylinder because you could just read down the column to see what goes in each recipe. The whole two-cylinder dial-a-recipe thing is a cave-in to some stupid designer who couldn’t tell a Manhattan from a Martini. There is no functional reason for this at all.
And what did I do? I bought it. Didn’t have a choice. Luckily the outer cylinder snaps off and can be discarded, which I advised my sister to do. I also got her a book of good recipes so she won’t be tempted to try the mixological disasters listed on the side. She’s on her way to successful home bartending, no thanks to Target and other various housewares stores.