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Monday 30 November 2015

Shaken Cocktails - Balcony Booze #2

Today I'll be looking at Shaken Cocktails DIY bartending kits in more detail after a weekend of #balconybooze mixology experiments at home (that you can see more of on Matt The Tumblr).

What's in the box?

Booze! Spirits, liqueurs, tinctures, bitters etc. Nothing perishable. Enough to make four cocktails plus a little extra for that all-important quality control taste test beforehand. There's also instructions and tips on how to make the cocktails, plus some interesting background information on the ingredients and recipes. Their introductory bourbon kit came with quite a large, wordy booklet, but I much preferred the smaller leaflet and cards included in the Reyka Vodka kit. The box itself is nice and sturdy, and pleasing to open - and I love the cheeky recycling message inside (see above!).

How much do they cost?

Each box costs £24 (including shipping), and it's technically a subscription / members service called the Shaken Explorer's Club. After you've chosen your first kit (Aviation or Manhattan), one box arrives every month, but you can pause / stop the service at any time, Netflix-style. Members will also occasionally get invites to special cocktail events.  Alternatively, you can give Shaken Cocktails boxes as gifts, in 1, 3, 6 or 12 month packages.

What do I need?

Basic cocktail equipment for starters - go and raid your nearest Nisbets for a Boston shaker, a Hawthorne strainer, a fine strainer, a mixing glass, measures / jiggers, and a bar spoon. If you are feeling fancy, get yourself a Mexican elbow - it's my favourite toy. Almost all of the glassware you can see in this post was rescued from charity shops. 

The boxes never contain perishable items so you might have to get hold of some limes, lemons, oranges etc. You'll definitely be needing some ice, ideally crystal clear which is hard to achieve from tap water. Try freezing a whole ice cream tub of water, and chip off the rubbish bits. Alternatively, buy a bag in from the supermarket, or steal some from your local pub! Or ignore me being fussy and use ice cube trays like a regular person. I'm a big fan of Tovolo's giant ice cubes and spheres too. Take it to the next level and make a Negroni cocktail sphere.

Are the cocktails easy to make?

Very. The instructions are clear and simple, and as long as you have the required basic cocktail equipment (see above), you should be able to whip up a cocktail in under a minute! Funnily enough, in both of the kits that I looked at (focused on Four Roses Bourbon and Reyka Vodka), there wasn't a "shaken" cocktail in sight. All four drinks were either stirred in a mixing glass, or built and stirred in the cocktail glass itself. Here's an example:

Equinox - get a stirring glass, a spoon, and a chilled martini / wine glass

- 50 ml Reyka Vodka
- 10 ml Dolin Blanc
- 10 ml Lillet Blanc
- 10 drops of black pepper tincture
- Ice cubes
- Lemon twist

Chill your glass. Half-fill a large stirring glass with ice. Add all the liquid ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into your chilled glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

Easy peasy. I tend to chill my glassware in the freezer for a couple of mins, but if you don't have space, fill the glass with ice and discard it just before you strain the cocktail.

Is it a high quality product?

Yep. In quite a coup, they've got legendary bartender Dick Bradsell on board to oversee all of the recipes, so you can definitely trust the specs.

Shaken endeavour to use high quality spirits and liqueurs, and it's no surprise that top brands want to get their booze in to the hands of cocktail aficionados. I particularly enjoyed the Reyka Vodka which was new to me, and I was impressed by the generous provision of Bitter Truth Orange Bitters in the Manhattan / Bourbon box. Perhaps they could include something a little more exciting than Martini Rosso on the Sweet Vermouth side, especially when that category is booming - Belsazar Red or Cocchi di Torino would go down well.

Is it just for beginners?

Not necessarily, though they will definitely get the most out of an Explorer's Club subscription. As an experienced backseat cocktail maker, I enjoyed trying out a few new drinks and discovering some new brands, but I've built up enough of a back bar that I don't need these kits to explore new recipes. It's an expensive hobby though, and if you want to get into it gradually without spending a fortune on booze all in one go, then Shaken Cocktails are for you. With a different focus every month, you are bound to discover something new that you didn't think you'd like - don't skip that Tequila box, it'll be the best one...


Two thumbs up. £24 is about right, especially as there's a fair amount left over after you've made four drinks. The kits are easy to use, the booze is high quality, the recipes are trustworthy, and the extra facts included regarding the cocktails and spirits will stand you in good stead next time you are propping up a bar.

I wouldn't be a proper Matt The Journalist if I didn't mention the competition. In London, you can also turn to Taste Cocktails, who offer an almost identical service. Both companies are currently seeking investment to take things to the next level.

My American readers *cue tumbleweed* have a few similar options, including Cocktail Courier, Saloon Box (a Kickstarter success), and my personal favourite, Crafted Taste, who go all out and give you FULL BOTTLES of booze (at considerable cost of course!). There's a tonne of stuff out there, as this Trendhunter article shows.

You can find all of my Shaken Cocktails photos and thoughts on each drink on Matt The Tumblr

Shaken Cocktails -

Balcony Booze #2

I've been warned.

Last time out on Balcony Booze, I kept it brief with a beer and a cocktail, but with Christmas approaching, thoughts turn to presents. Here are some more substantial things that you might want to ask Father Christmas for. Click on the pictures for more info.


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  2. Two thumbs up. £24 seems about appropriate, especially since there's plenty left over after you've made four cocktails. The kits are simple to use, the alcohol is of high quality, the recipes are reliable, and the extra information about the cocktails and spirits provided will come in handy the next time you're setting up a bar. Keep up the good job! I'm looking forward to seeing more unique factoids from your perspective in the future. Thank you so much for your help!
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