3 Cocktail Strainers, Which One Do I Use?

Published ~ May 18th, 2020 | Updated ~ January 6th, 2021
Author ~ Carl Busch

You put the lime in the coconut, and you shake 'em both up. You're ready to drink 'em both up, but you need to strain 'em both out.... over ice.

You've got two techniques to strain your cocktail to choose from, and you've probably seen both at one time or another. Each method serves a purpose, but one is superior to the other. What it all boils down to is quantity or quality.

Tin & Pint Glass

The first straining technique, you've seen at packed, party bars. They're serving Jack & Cokes and pouring shots. There's nothing wrong with these places. We frequent a few, but they're not where we go for a good cocktail.

In these bars, quantity is king. Bartenders shake the drink with a tin and a pint glass. When they are ready to strain, they take the bottom side of the pint glass and drop it into the tin. Then, they let the wide mouth of the pint glass do the straining.

Visions of a bartender pouring a row of shots from a single tin should come to mind. We've all seen something like it in the movies. Straining the drink this way is going to keep the big ice chunks out of the cocktail or shot, but it is going to let smaller shards or pieces of ice come out with the drink. The purpose is speed, and that's what you get.

Cocktail Strainers

For a quality pour, you have to use a cocktail strainer. This is the most effective way to separate your drink from the ice in the tin. You will see this method used most often in restaurants or cocktail bars.

Equipment in the cocktail game varies, as it does in most other games. There are many types of cocktail strainers, and each has its own pros and cons. Do you have to have all of them to make great cocktails? Absolutely not, but it doesn't hurt to know about them.

Various types of Cocktail Strainers

There is one strainer vital to every bar setup. The others are just a little something extra. If you are flush with cash, or just want to have all the tools of the trade, then go ahead and pick them all up.

Hawthorne Strainer

The Hawthorne Strainer is the Swiss army knife of strainers, vital to every basic bar setup. You NEED to have this strainer to make cocktails. You may be wondering, "Why do I need this one? What makes it so special?" Let me tell you:

When you are searching the depths of the internet, or your local Bed, Bath, and Beyond, you might see cocktail starter kits. These kits have everything you need to start making cocktails at home. You could buy one of these, and it would work. But, you could save yourself the hassle and the extra cost having to purchase better quality equipment later. Buy the correct Hawthorne strainer from the start.

Hawthorne strainer

I know what you think, "WTF, there are different types?"

Yes. You've got two types: cheap-ass ones that barely get the job done and high-quality ones.

I have one of each. The cheap one came in an "all-in-one starter kit." One of those things you get for people for a Secret Santa gift exchange. I measured each one and researched the average cost for each type.

Cheap

  • 1/32" thick stainless steel
  • 1/4" average between each spiral
  • 1.6 oz weight
  • $3.40 cost

High-Quality

  • 1/16" thick stainless steel
  • 1/16" average between each spiral
  • 3.8 oz weight
  • $13.00 cost
  • How Does a Hawthorne Strainer Work

Two pieces make up this strainer. The spring and the strainer body.

A tighter spring will give you a better strain on your ice.

Fewer shards of ice will come through and into your cocktail. It will also have a tighter fit inside your tin and have a better seal around the edges.

When you place the strainer in the tin, there are two positions: an open gate and a closed gate.

An open gate will keep almost all of your shards of ice from coming through but will let chucks and seeds from frush fruit come through.

A closed gate is going to keep almost everything in the tin but the cocktail itself. It is a slower pour because more things are getting blocked by the spring.

To perform a closed gate, all you do is press down on the finger mold on the body when it is inside the tin. Usually, there is a small piece of bent metal or plastic mold on the body for your finger.

Julep Strainer

Julep strainers really only have one use and are probably not something you need to invest in right away. These strainers are used when you are using mixing glass instead of a shaker tin. They fit snugger to a mixing glass than a Hawthorne. They will usually almost have a locking feel to them when inside the glass so they will not fall out when straining.

julep strainer

The second difference is the handle. The handles can be straight or bent. It really doesn't matter if you choose the straight or bent handles. It's all about what feels right to you.

When you are using a mixing glass, you are stirring the cocktail. Unlike shaking, you aren't going to have the shards of ice to strain out after mixing with this method. This is the reason a spring is not needed on a julep strainer.

Julep strainers are going to cost between $5 and $40.

Cheaper julep strainers are made from stainless steel and usually are two pieces of metal fused together. More expensive julep strainers are generally one piece and can be made of other metals, like pewter. Having a julep strainer made from a single piece of molded metal makes it easier to clean and generally looks more appealing.

Fine Mesh Strainer

This strainer serves really one purpose. It is used as a double strainer when you are using herbs in your cocktail or when you do not want seeds or small pieces of fruits or vegetables in your cocktail. Some bartenders will double strain almost all of their cocktails. They do this to make sure no shard of ice is left behind.

Fine Mesh Strainer

This could because they are not using a high-quality Hawthorne strainer. It could also be because they are using ice that breaks into shards very easily. Individual ice machines make a variety of shapes and qualities of cubes.

Double straining every cocktail because you don't have the right ice can be frustrating.

But, bartenders don't buy the ice machines, so they find their workarounds. Usually, that's a fine mesh strainer.

Fine mesh strainers usually range of price from about $8 to $15.

Build quality in these strainers is generally pretty universal in these strainers, so which one you buy really doesn't matter, as long as you take care of it properly. People will sometimes break the mesh if they throw them around too much or don't take care when washing them.

The only thing I truly look for in a fine mesh strainer is a 3" diameter. This is usually wide enough to cover whatever glass you are pouring into.

Buying the Right Tools

Bartending has several advantages over other hobbies. One of the most significant is that the difference in the quality of the tools is more affordable than other hobbies.

One of my hobbies is video production. The price difference between low- and high-quality gear can mean a difference of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Even when I spend a lot of time researching the differences between different pieces of video equipment, I could still end up with something inferior.

As you read above, mixologist's tools are not too expensive on the high end. So, purchasing better quality tools from the start is going to be extremely helpful.

It does make a lot of difference in your cocktail game without hurting your wallet.

Get your game started with a Hawthorne strainer and a tin. Then, start mixin'.