How to Strain a Cocktail: Types of Strainers & How They Work

When making cocktails sometimes we need to strain out the solids before they go into the final drink. Strainers are an essential tool for any bartender and learning how to use them is a staple of bartending technique. There are three types of strainers: fine strainer, Julep strainer, and Hawthorne strainer. Each type has its own purpose and will affect your cocktail differently depending on what you want out of it.

Not all strainers are created equal

A cocktail recipe is a delicate, complex mixture of ingredients and flavors. As such, it’s important to strain the shaken or stirred concoction before serving so that potential clumps don’t end up in your glass. There are many types of strainers you can use to do this, but here we’ll focus on three common tools: the Hawthorne strainer, the Julep strainer, and the fine mesh sieve.

These three types of cocktail strainers offer a variety of benefits and can make a world of difference when it comes to making quality cocktails.


Hawthorne Strainer

Invented by Nathaniel Hawthorne at his bar in Boston around 1850, this strainer has two prongs that hold onto the cup while allowing liquid to fall through its screen into an awaiting serving glass. Operated with Boston Shaker, the Hawthorne strainer is usually used for solid ingredients like fruit, vegetables, and ice. There is an easily removed spring on the inside that helps to keep pulp, crushed ice, and other unwanted particles from getting into the cocktail.


How to Use a Hawthorne Strainer:

  • Take your shaken drink and hold the strainer over the top of the mixing tin, keeping it in place with one finger
  • Slowly tip the drink through the screen, allowing all of the ingredients to drain through into your serving glass


Hawthorne Strainer

This is a spoon-shaped perforated metal strainer that is used for filtering cocktails without damaging ice-cold ingredients like fruit pulp. Before the modern drinking straw was invented in 1888, Julep strainers allowed cocktail drinkers to hold back the crushed ice in a mint julep while sipping (essential for those bushy mustaches). It’s an ideal strainer for stirred cocktails made with a mixing glass where you won’t have room for any other type of strainer.


How to Use a Julep Strainer:

  • Take your shaken drink and hold the strainer over the top of the mixing tin, keeping it in place with one finger
  • Slowly tip the drink through the screen, allowing all of the ingredients to drain through into your serving glass

Fine Mesh Strainer

The fine strainers are small circular wire mesh screens that fit into a metal ring or globe and are often used in combination with a Hawthorne or Julep strainer as an extra precaution (double straining). They can be used to make drinks without the worry of herbs, egg whites, fruit pieces, etc ruining their texture. These would work well for liquors like raspados (a slushy drink made from fresh strawberries), cordials such as limoncello which includes lemon peels and pulp, among others!


How to Use a Fine Mesh Strainer:

  • Add your primary strainer to the cocktail shaker to remove the larger particles such as ice cubes, whole herbs, etc.
  • Hold the fine mesh wire strainer over your glass by its handle and pour your cocktail through both strainers into the serving glass

A *VERY* Brief History of the Cocktail Strainer

Starting in the early 1870s, cocktail strainers were created that utilized a slew of different methods to better serve those who mix their own cocktails. This tradition can be traced back to ancient Chinese tea strainers as they used screens that would filter both leaves and plant matter from what is being consumed for fear that these smaller particles could spoil one’s experience with bitterness or unwanted texture. 

However, it wasn’t until improvements in ice storage technology occurred (i.e., year-round availability) that people began to put more importance on filtering out ice to keep the cocktail from being diluted. It was during this time period when bartenders and drinkers alike started considering straining one’s drink an essential part of any cocktail-making routine.

With the history of cocktail strainers, it should be quite obvious to see why these specific types of devices have stuck around in the bartending world. A simple design to solve a simple problem and get the best results possible.