Tipples

Champion Shaker revived at Gibson bar in Bukit Pasoh Road

Mr Jason Crawley invented a cocktail shaker, one of which is at Singapore's Gibson bar (left).
Mr Jason Crawley invented a cocktail shaker, one of which is at Singapore's Gibson bar (above).PHOTOS: ANJALI RAGURAMAN, DIAGEO
Mr Jason Crawley (above) invented a cocktail shaker, one of which is at Singapore's Gibson bar.
Mr Jason Crawley (above) invented a cocktail shaker, one of which is at Singapore's Gibson bar. PHOTOS: ANJALI RAGURAMAN, DIAGEO

A machine originally designed in the 1800s and which looks like an ice shaver for ice kacang now shakes up cocktails in selected bars around the world, after being brought to life by drinks industry leader, dreamer and part-time engineer Jason Crawley.

The Tanqueray No. Ten Champion Shaker, which can be seen in action in Singapore only at Gibson bar in Bukit Pasoh Road, is one of 34 around the world.

While it traditionally takes about 12 minutes to shake up a Ramos Gin Fizz, the hand-cranked device gets it done in 30 seconds. The shaking canisters are filled with gin, syrup, lime and lemon juices, egg white and cream, and a couple of cranks later on the 48kg machine, the mixture turns into the frothy cocktail. Its repertoire extends to other shaken drinks such as sours and martinis.

Mr Crawley drew inspiration from a line drawing in a 19th-century book that he chanced upon in a New Orleans bookstore.

It took him five years to develop the first of his Victorian-era devices, a 1.8m-tall, hand-cranked cast-iron and silver machine called the Imperial Shaker. It shakes up four cocktails at a go.

The 45-year-old Englishman, who is from the traditionally steel manufacturing town of Sheffield and who comes from a family of engineers, says: "I saw the drawing and it lit me up. I thought, 'That needs to exist again'."

The Imperial Shaker project, which began in 2008, took five years of his life, multiple prototypes and a group of engineers from New Zealand who were crazy enough to take on the idea. The entire machine was built from scratch.

The smaller and more mobile Champion Shaker was developed only after global spirits conglomerate Diageo, which now owns the design files for his machines, "asked if we could make it smaller and put it on the bar top", he says.

With the same group of Kiwi engineers and a couple of drawings off Guinness coasters at his local pub in Sydney, it took a much shorter time of nine months to develop.

While the Imperial Shaker shakes four drinks at once, the Champion shaker does two at a go. But it shakes drinks five times harder than its bigger cousin.

Mr Crawley, a father of two who is based in Sydney, Australia, declined to reveal how much was spent developing the shakers, but says it took "everything I had".

He is a long-time drinks industry proponent, running bar operations internationally and creating his own line of syrup brands under The Simple Syrup Co.

But even he does not have the answer to how many cranks each drink should be given.

"Like with driving a car, you just have to get used to it and understand the movement of it," he says. "The process still involves the bartender because you have to taste it and see if it's diluted properly."

The shaker moves in an elliptical motion instead of a standard up and down motion, much like a bartending technique called the "Japanese hard shake", which throws the drink harder.

While the entire drinks industry is obsessed with esoteric concoctions and handmade drinks, he insists that his machine is in line with the craft movement.

"It's a hand-crafted device that ultimately adds more theatre to drinking," he says. "It doesn't always have to be like Tom Cruise throwing bottles in the air in the movie Cocktail to make it exciting. You can make high drama in a nice elegant kind of way rather than set yourself on fire."

For him, the romance of such machinery lies in how, like most antiques, they just do one thing really well. "It doesn't do anything other than shake drinks, so people instantly connect with it," he says.

Lamenting that "the modern generation hasn't seen engineering" and that "everything is done on an iPad these days", he adds that these machines embody "human history at your fingertips".

See how the shaker works at http://str.sg/4owf

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2016, with the headline 'Shake-up for cocktails'. Print Edition | Subscribe