cocktail strainers
The three styles of cocktail strainer, from left to right: julep, Hawthorne, and mesh.

After you’ve stirred up your Negroni, shaken your Hemingway Daiquiri, or frothed up your Gin Fizz, the next step is separating your cocktail from all that ice, fruit, herbs, and egg whites. To do that, you’re going to need a cocktail strainer of some sort (who would’ve guessed?), and we’ve got just the ones to help.

What is a Cocktail Strainer?

Cocktails strainers are generally broken up into three categories: Hawthorne strainers, julep strainers, and mesh strainers. The easiest way to think about it is that there are three different types of things you’re going to want to strain out of your drink, depending on what you made and how you made it.

Hawthorne Strainers

hawthorne strainer

First, the Hawthorne strainer. You use a Hawthorne strainer any time you’ve shaken a cocktail, and its coil actually allows you to adjust how finely you want to filter it. Shrink the opening by pushing forward on the strainer as you’re pouring, and you’ll just get the liquids. Widen it up by pulling back, and you can allow some small pieces of muddled fruit or herbs into the finished cocktail.

  1. OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer ($7) – This Hawthorne strainer is a favorite among bartenders the world over. OXO started putting out a line of really high-quality bar tools several years back, and while they tend to look a little different from the traditional designs, they’re absolutely phenomenal.
  2. Cocktail Kingdom Koriko Hawthorne Strainer ($15) – This Hawthorne strainer from Cocktail Kingdom is sturdy, reliable, and looks great on the shelf. It’s a bit pricier than the OXO strainer, but it looks classic and will last you forever.

Julep Strainers

julep strainer

Next, there’s the julep strainer, which looks more or less like a giant slotted spoon. Apparently it was originally placed over the top of a cocktail served over ice (we’d imagine a Mint Julep, but what do we know), and the drinker would then be able to take sips without touching the ice to their teeth. Guess those old Southern gentlemen were a little sensitive.

Anyway, nowadays it’s used to strain stirred cocktails out of your mixing glass. Because stirred cocktails typically don’t have anything other than spirits and other alcoholic ingredients (nothing too pulpy and substantial, anyway), it’s not necessary to have an adjustable opening like on a Hawthorne strainer. You’re simply separating the booze from the ice. To use a julep strainer, all you have to do is pop it into your mixing glass at an angle, hold it in place with your index finger, and pour the drink into its serving glass.

  1. Cocktail Kingdom Premium Julep Strainer ($11) – As usual, Cocktail Kingdom’s offerings are the industry standard. And for those of you who want to put a little more flair into your home bar, this one also comes in a copper-plated version (although it’s going to run you more like $20).
  2. Vintage Julep Strainer ($12) – This vintage julep strainer takes on a classic scalloped seashell design, so you can feel like a real genteel southerner from yesteryear. It also features an indent in the handle, which will help keep it in place as you’re straining your drink.

Mesh Strainers

mesh strainer

Finally, you’re also going to want a mesh strainer, sometimes called a tea strainer. This one uses a really fine metal mesh to strain out any persistent little bits of pulp or shards of ice that have resulted from vigorously shaking the cocktail. To do that, you have to use a technique called double-straining, which is exactly what it sounds like: you hold the mesh strainer over the serving glass with one hand and strain the drink into it (out of the shaker, using a Hawthorne strainer) with the other. The first strainer keeps the ice and other big stuff out, and the mesh catches the rest.

Now, you’re also going to use the mesh strainer anytime you’re making a drink with egg whites in it. After shaking the cocktail, double-strain it into the serving glass, allowing the mesh to catch most of the egg whites. Then, still holding the mesh strainer above the drink, tap it lightly with your cocktail shaker. This creates a layer of fine egg white foam on top of the drink, and will give it a classic, refined look. Plus, it tastes pretty flippin’ delicious.

  1. RSVP 3-Inch Stainless Steel Conical Strainer ($8) – This is a really basic mesh strainer, and it’s exactly what you need. The relatively large, 3-inch size and conical shape make it perfect for double-straining cocktails.
  2. Cocktail Kingdom CoCo Strainer ($7) – This Cocktail Kingdom strainer was designed specifically for cocktails, so it has plenty of volume for straining on a single pour. It probably won’t differ too much from the one listed above, but hey, it’s a dollar cheaper and is guaranteed to meet your bartending needs.

What if I can’t afford a cocktail strainer?

Of course, you’re not always going to be able to drop $25 on bartending tools, especially when you’ve probably been making a list of all kinds of other expensive bar gear to buy. And even if you have a strainer at home, impromptu bartending at a friend’s house sometimes requires a bit of ingenuity.

The ideal choice, partly because of its effectiveness and partly because we think it’s pretty clever, is to simply find a glass that’s slightly smaller (and a good bit shorter) than your mixing glass. Place it in the top of the mixing glass or shaker tin as if you’re stacking them, leaving about a half inch or so of room around the sides. Holding it firmly in place, pick up the stacked contraption and carefully pour your cocktail into the serving glass. The smaller glass ensures that none of the ice will come spilling out in the process.

Alternatively, you can improvise a julep strainer of sorts with a large, wide, slotted serving spoon. If it fits inside your mixing glass, stick it in at about a 45-degree angle so that it’s resting just on top of the ice. Holding it in place with your finger (make sure you’re using enough force to keep the ice from spilling), pick up the mixing glass and pour it into the serving glass. Voila!

 

Photos: Will Shenton

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