How To Use A Cocktail Strainer & Do You Really Need One?

How-To Guides

Bartender using a cocktail strainerA cocktail strainer is a bar accessory used to strain ice and chunky ingredients from the mixed drink that's being poured into the glass. It is a type of sieve that's placed over the mouth of the cocktail glass or shaker with small holes that only allow liquids to pass while pouring.

Many consider straining to be an essential part of the cocktail making and drinking experience, but for some reason, not all mixologists use cocktail strainers. In this article, find out how to use a cocktail strainer properly and explore its different types. And we’ll finally settle whether or not you need one.

Different Types of Cocktail Strainers

There are three types of the best cocktail strainers out there. Your choice will depend on what type of drink you're making as there are specific strainers for specific drinks and purposes. It will also depend on the shaker you're using since there are different types of shakers. The easiest to do it from is the three-piece cocktail shaker since this strainer is built into the lids and there is no need for a different tool.

The Boston shaker, however, requires a different straining tool as it has no built-in strainer. You will be using a Hawthorne strainer most of the time, although there are certain situations where a Julep strainer can be of use. Having both cocktail strainers in the bar would be the ideal set-up.

How to Use a Hawthorne Strainer

The Hawthorne strainer is the leading strainer used in homes and commercial bars around the world. It came a bit late, but it helped revolutionize the cocktail game. Made to resemble Chinese tea strainers, it was designed to sit perfectly over any shaker or glass without any locking so that it can be easily removed. 

On its head plate, you’ll see a variety of holes, and the most common model is the one with two tabs that run along the edges. These two tabs are usually bent in a downward position, and this is where you’ll find the spring (sometimes called the coil) that is easy to remove and replace. There’s also a tab on top of the strainer that you can use to push the strainer over the glass or shaker's edge, which engages the double strain function.

Hawthorne cocktail strainer

Barfly Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Spring Bar Strainer

  1. Place the strainer over the glass or shaker's opening with the drinks you wish to strain.
  2. Next, you have to push the tab down to close it. This allows you to double strain your cocktail. 
  3. Lastly, you have to slowly pour the cocktail through the strainer into the serving glass.

Here’s a 16-second video of the Hawthorne cocktail strainer in action:

 

How to Use a Julep Strainer

The Julep strainer looks like a bowl-shaped cup with a handle. It fits just right inside a standard pint glass and is perforated with small holes that allow only liquid to slip through it. This strainer was the first in the strainer family. It emerged when ice became a key ingredient behind the bar in the 19th century. 

It was first intended to be an aid to drinkers — yes, drinkers, not bartenders — who are consuming beverages mixed with crushed ice. The Julep strainer is pretty easy to use and it doesn't require any special skill.

Julep cocktail strainer

Barfly Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Spring Bar Strainer

  1. Place the julep strainer in the glass. The bowl of the strainer should be "cupping" the ice, like a bowl placed upside down. 
  2. Grab the glass near its rim using your dominant hand. 
  3. Using your index finger, hold the strainer against the ice.
  4. Lift the mixing glass, tilt it over the serving glass, and pour.

Here’s a short video on how to use a Julep Cocktail Strainer:

 

How to Use a Fine Mesh Strainer

Mixologists have used fine mesh strainers in more recent years to strain their cocktails thoroughly. Straining using this bar tool ensures that the liquid entering the glass is smooth and silky and has no chunks of ingredients or ice shards that may have sneaked through. 

Even if you’re already using a Julep strainer or a Hawthorne strainer, sometimes you need to strain a little bit more, and that’s where the fine mesh strainer comes in. Fine mesh cocktail strainers are available in multiple sizes and are usually held straight underneath the first strainer.

Fine mesh cocktail strainer

Barfly Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Spring Bar Strainer

  1. Place your primary cocktail strainer on the shaker and hold a fine mesh strainer by its handle over your glass. 
  2. Pour through both strainers into the glass
  3. Anything that comes through the primary strainer will be caught in the fine mesh.

Watch the video below on how to use a Fine Mesh Cocktail Strainer:

 

Is There Really a Need for a Cocktail Strainer?

Straining cocktails effectively catches unwanted ingredients in your drink, such as torn herbs, bits of fruit, and other elements that are not pleasing to the taste. Since these ingredients already did their job of providing flavor to the drink, straining them out of the mix is a good thing.

While there are cocktails that are generally served with chunky ingredients like the mojito, for example —  it's more of an exemption than a rule. It also boils down to preference as some drinkers favor the strained version of the drink to prevent unnecessary stuff from sticking to their teeth. Having said that, it’s safe to say you need a cocktail strainer in your home bar if you’re going to make a lot of different cocktails.

Conclusion

A cocktail strainer is a simple and humble bar tool, but it can make all the difference in the world, especially if you want to produce a perfect pour and an excellent overall quality cocktail every time. Here’s our recommendation: use a Hawthorne strainer for shaken cocktails and use the Julep one for stirred cocktails.

Did you enjoy learning about cocktail strainers? We’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below.


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