3 Cocktail Strainer Types (EXPLAINED)

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3 Cocktail Strainer Types

Like a delicate dish, a cocktail should be pleasing to all of your senses. It should naturally taste good but also feel relaxed in hand, deliver an enticing aroma and look stunning in the glass. A key element to achieving this goal is using the proper tools to create the perfect effect.

Ask any professional bartender, and they will tell you that a quality cocktail strainer is their most important tool, with the possible exception of a bottle opener. Whether you are creating a classic Sazerac, whipping up the latest high-profile cocktail, or attempting to perfect the perfect martini, controlling the solid ingredients that you pour into the glass is crucial to creating the perfect drink.

Not all of us aspire to professional bartending, but even behind our home bar, we want to deliver stellar drinks to our friends and family. To that end, we offer this short guide to cocktail strainers, how to use them and what we consider the best cocktail strainers to have behind your bar.

Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick summary of the products we recommend.

Product Name Grade
Hawthorne strainers A+
Julep Strainer A+
Fine Mesh Strainer A+

Types of Cocktail Strainers

You can use a fork or slotted spoon as a cocktail strainer in a pinch. Though, this can be a cumbersome process and will deliver inferior results.

To help you look professional, even if you are not, here are the three types of cocktail strainer you should consider using.

Each has its good and bad points, and any professional bartender worth his bitters will have all three in his tool kit.

The most common types of bar strainer are:

  • Hawthorne strainer
  • Julep strainer
  • Fine mesh strainer

Hawthorne Strainer

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The most recognizable cocktail strainer is the hawthorn strainer.

Hawthorn strainers are composed of a flat metal plate with fine perforations and are lined with a flexible spring that catches fruit pulp, ice, and other solids.

Some nicer models have a tab or ridge built into them to make it easier to push the strainer to the edge of the shaker tin or to mix glass and eliminate the need to double-strain.

Though there is some contention about its exact origins, it is generally accepted that the Hawthorne strainer was either named for a bar, ‘The Hawthorne,’ where it was initially developed, or for the once-popular brand that was its largest producer during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Regardless of its origins, a Hawthorne strainer is the most popular and commonly used bar strainer in the United States, both for home bartenders and professionals alike.

Hawthorne Strainer Pros

  • It can quickly adapt to various-sized mixing glasses and a smaller mixing tin.
  • Even top brands are reasonably inexpensive to buy.
  • They simply look cool

Hawthorne Strainer Cons

  • A Hawthorne strainer can be challenging to clean if pulp or other solids dry on the spring.
  • Compared to other types of strainers, Hawthorne strainers can be easily damaged.

Every bar and bartender should have at least one Hawthorne strainer in its tool kit.

Important factors to consider when shopping for them are being comfortable in hand, having a secure grip in the mixing tin, durability, being easy to clean.

Julep Strainer

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The second most popular type of cocktail strainer is the julep strainer, especially in Southern regions of the U.S. As you might have guessed, the julep strainer takes its name from those classic hot summer day treats, mint juleps.

With a history that goes back to the early 1800s, the julep strainer is considered by many to be the very first strainer created for the express purpose of making cocktails. The legend is that when plantation owners got tired of getting hit in the nose by ice when enjoying a mint julep, they had their blacksmiths hammer out this simple but effective cocktail strainer.

The julep strainer traditionally has a long handle on a shallow bowl-shaped plate with fine perforations in it. Still, it is used by the bartender holding in place on top of the mixing glass with one finger while pouring the liquid through the strainer.

While not as commonly seen as the Hawthorne strainer, the julep strainer is is still very versatile and an excellent choice as an available strainer for cocktail lovers and professional bartenders alike.

Its dished design sits easily on top of many different sized cocktail glasses, and once you learn the proper straining technique, it catches ice chips and solid materials quite well.

Julep Strainer Pros

  • A better fit for and less likely to damage your mixing glass than other strainer types
  • Julep strainers are incredibly rugged and challenging to damage, especially if you buy a durable stainless steel strainer.
  • A julep strainer’s perforated piece is an excellent utensil to remove solid materials, including ice and fruit.
  • A julep strainer is the easiest of all strainer types to get and keep clean.

Julep Strainer Cons

  • By the standards of professional bartenders, a julep strainer can be extremely slow to use.
  • Quality models are slightly more expensive than other strainers.

The straining quality of a julep strainer is very similar to a Hawthorne strainer, and the most bar keeps will typically use the one they are most familiar with.

They are simple to use without a great deal of training and virtually indestructible unless you try.

The main difference between a julep strainer and a hawthorn strainer is that the Hawthorne works best with mixing tins and the julep strain is more at home on top of mixing glasses.

The main things to look for in a julep strainer are stainless steel construction and the size of the perforations in the plate.

Fine Mesh Strainer

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Fine mesh strainers can be but are not generally used as a primary strainer when making cocktails. Their purpose is most often used for secondary straining when you want your cocktails to be very clear and clean.

Tiny pieces of ice and other solid ingredients can often find their way past Hawthorne and julep strainers, but little if any will pass through a quality fine mesh strainer.

Bartenders usually either hold them between the mixing tin and the cocktail glass or suspend them over the top of the glass and strain the cocktail through both in a single pour.

Fine mesh strainers are typically used for purposes like sieving powdered sugar or straining tea leaves which gives you some indication of just how tight their mesh is.

Of course, this does come at a very low cost but delivers as pure a cocktail as can typically be achieved.

Fine Mesh Strainer Pros

  • Compared to other barware, a fine mesh strainer is inexpensive and easy to locate.
  • Traps ice slivers and even the finest other solids
  • It has many uses outside the bar
  • A fine mesh strainer takes up minimal space in your kit.

Fine Mesh Strainer Cons

  • A fine mesh strainer can be very difficult to clean.
  • The mesh of the strainer can be easily deformed by impacts or too much pressure,

Fine mesh is an excellent medium to remove all solids, including fruit pulp and ice slivers. However, they are too slow to drain and easy to clog for general bar use.

They are generally and best used as a secondary strainer after a cocktail has been run through a Hawthorne or Julep strainer to remove the last of the debris.

If you are looking for a fine-mesh strainer for your bar, the key things to pay attention to are the tightness of the screen, its durability, and the strength of the overall strainer.

A wire strainer suitable for bar use is not a major investment, but it pays to buy quality the first time as is the norm.

Which Bar Strainer Should you Buy?

hawthorne strainer

The best cocktail strainer for your bar is more or less a matter of choice. Both a Hawthorne and a julep strainer have their strong points, and which will work best behind your bar will depend on how comfortable you are at handling each and whether you prefer to mix in glass or tins.

The general concinnous is that a julep strainer is more manageable for novices to learn how to use, but keep in mind how secure it is in place depends entirely on the sureness of the bartender’s grip.

A Hawthorne strainer works best with tins but can mare the finish on glass barware.

A mesh strainer is at home in any bar and should be used in conjunction with your choice’s more coarse type strainer.

Which type of strainer should you buy? If you are not sure, we can offer the best advice to buy one of each and see what works best for you.

Cocktail Strainer Wrap Up

There is no perfect strainer, and what will work best behind your bar is essentially a matter of taste. Both julep and Hawthorne strainers do an excellent job, and any extra cost that one may run over the other is negligible.

Both are also durable, but a julep strainer is a little more rugged due to the simplicity of its construction, and for the uninitiated, they are a little handier to use.

A Hawthorne strainer is a slightly better choice if you use a tin as they provide a surer grip on the inside of the tin. This is, after all, what they were intended for, but they do tend to scratch glass barware.