Which came first, the cocktail or the shaker? There is no question—unless someone finds a cocktail recipe from the late 1500s—as that is when the shaker first appeared in one of its modern forms. It was called doppelfassbecher, a double-barrel beaker that was used presumably for drinking toasts rather than mixing drinks. It was common in Germany during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, made of silver, brass, or gold. This should not be confused with the doppelscheuer, interlocking silver wine goblets that were made around the same time.

The doppelfassbecher’s design was much like the two-part shakers of today: two metal cups of almost equal size, one slightly taller than the other as it included a lip that locked it into place with the other. Even the height and width was sometimes very similar to classic cocktail shakers. But this is not a coincidence.

Religious persecution, during the 1600s, drove massive German emigration to Britain. But the German-British connection went all the way to the throne. From the 1714 coronation of Hanoverian  prince George I to present, every king, queen, or consort has descended from or married with German ancestry. Thus, it is no surprise that the doppelfassbecher made its appearance in Britain, in the late 1700s, particularly in London. Many examples made in Sheffield, a city renowned for its metalwork, can be found. And it was in Britain that the doppelfassbecher met the cocktail and became the cobbler mixer.

By the mid-1800s, cobbler mixers were purveyed by Farrow & Jackson Limited of London—wine and spirits merchants who also billed themselves as engineers of all sorts of bar and cellar fittings. Unlike the doppelfassbecher, this bar tool did not have a pattern of barrel staves etched into it. However, it still retained the horizontal bands around it that represented barrel hoops. These early cobbler mixers are the obvious missing link between modern all-metal two-part shakers and the sixteenth-century originals.

An 1856 article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle gives an early glimpse of the cobbler mixer’s place behind the bar: “The barkeeper and his assistants possess the agility of acrobats and the prestidigitative skill of magicians. They are all bottle conjurors.—They toss the drinks about; they throw brimful glasses over their heads; they shake the saccharine, glacial and alcoholic ingredients in their long tin tubes…”

The earliest references to cocktail shakers that we have found appeared, in 1868, in two British publications. The first, from Meliora: A Quarterly Review of Social Science, notes that: “This endeavour to get up a system of stimulation has given rise in America to the manufacture of ‘cocktail’ (a compound of whiskey, brandy, or champagne, bitters, and ice), dexterously mixed in tall silver mugs made for the purpose, called ‘cocktail shakers.’”

In the British periodical Notes and Queries, from that same year, we found the earliest description of cocktail shaker’s use: ‘“What is a cocktail-shaker?” I never possessed a pair of ‘cocktail-shakers’ myself, but a young officer in the Blues [the Union army during the American Civil War] a fellow-passenger in a Cunard steamer in which I crossed the Atlantic in 1865, did possess, and was very proud of, a brace of tall silver mugs in which the ingredients of the beverage known as a ‘cocktail’ (whiskey, brandy or champagne, bitters and ice) are mixed, shaken together, and then scientifically discharged—the ‘shakers’ being held at arm’s length, and sometimes above the operator’s head—from goblet to goblet, backwards and forwards, over and over again, till the requisite perfection of homogeneousness has been attained. These are the ‘cocktail shakers’ and our friend in the Blues was so great a proficient in the difficult art of goblet-throwing, and the compounds he made were so delicious, that ladies on board, who in the earlier stages of the voyage had been dreadfully sea-sick, were often heard to inquire, towards two p.m., whether Captain --------- was going to make any ‘cocktails’ that day.”

From the description, the young officer combined the ingredients, shook them in the shaker, then separated the cups and used them as throwing glasses to give the mixture a series of finishing throws. This is particularly interesting since most bartenders at that time were masters of throwing, but none was noted for shaking drinks.

German immigration hit American shores in the 1680s, settling primarily in New York and Pennsylvania. During the 1800s, eight million Germans sought a new life in the “land of the free”. More than just about any other ethnicity, Germans dominated nineteenth-century American bar operations. Think of it. Willie Schmidt, Harry Johnson, and George Kappeler were not the only Germans who plied their craft in New York’s famous watering holes. Between 1860 and 1900, the number of bartenders and saloon owners west of the Mississippi rose from under 4,000 to nearly 50,000. Forty percent were recent German immigrants, and twenty-five percent of those were of German descent. Thirty percent of saloon proprietors in Colorado were German and no doubt knew the proper use of a doppelfassbecher as well as the joys of quaffing vermut. And if they didn’t, according to the San Antonio Express in 1886, there were a number of bartending manuals printed in English and German for them such as Harry Johnson’s Bartenders Manual.

Around the turn of the century, there was a brief dip in the shaker’s popularity as the art of throwing faded away into obscurity. Seasoned imbibers were heard to lament that bartenders had forgotten the old arts and were content to stir their drinks. Mixing glasses appeared in many consumer advertisements as well. Fortunately, this lapse was not long-lived.

Perhaps the largest boom in cocktail shaker sales occurred in the United States just before, during, and after Prohibition as more people entertained at home. Teapot-shaped shakers rose in popularity, not to hide cocktail implements from the police, but to avoid scorn from temperant aunts and mother-in-laws.

It should now be clear how the doppelfassbecher evolved into the Boston shaker. What is less clear is how the two-part shaker (read: cobbler mixer), became the Boston shaker while the three-part shaker took on the moniker of cobbler shaker. The three-part cobbler shaker, as we know it today, was named in 2003 by Dale DeGroff, based on the illustration of a three-part shaker that was captioned “cobbler mixer” on page 21 of Farrow & Jackson’s 1902 book Recipes of American and Other Iced Drinks. While this is a new application of the name, it is far more helpful than the book he took the name from, which also had a two-part “cobbler mixer” and a one-part mixing cup presumably made to be used with a mixing glass. But that’s tale to be uncovered at another time.

—Anistatia Miller & Jared Brown

[This article was originally published in German in 2010 in Mixology Magazine.]