Whether holding back ice or keeping errant herbs or fruit from a drink, bartenders rely on strainers to keep cocktails pristine and smooth.
While a strainer seems like a utilitarian tool—not quite as iconic as a cocktail shaker—it’s an important workhorse, to the point where many bar pros have favorites. Some even take pains to optimize their strainers, such as adding an extra coil for a more snug fit in a mixing glass or shaker.
Among the basic strainer types: The Hawthorne strainer is designed to be used with shaker tins. These models have metal springs or coils that fit within the tin to ensure a tight fit. Some models also include extra tabs or “cat ears,” to ensure it sits over any size tin. By comparison, the rounded Julep strainer is typically used in a mixing glass to filter stirred drinks. That said, some pros use Hawthornes across the board; it’s generally favored as a more efficient tool to strain out solids.
Meanwhile, fine mesh strainers are used to filter out smaller particles: ice fragments, pulp from fresh-squeezed juices or any other time finer texture is desired.
It’s sometimes used in conjunction with one of the other strainers, a technique called “double straining.”
Here are a few cocktail strainers that bartenders recommend.
A Bar Above Cocktail Strainers
Those starting a home bar can opt for a set of three strainers (Hawthorne, Julep and fine strainer) or individual items custom-designed by a husband-and-wife team out of Carlsbad, California.
“All of their tools that I’ve gotten have been excellent quality, and the Hawthornes in particular seem to be the ‘Goldilocks’ size for my hands (not too big, not too small),” says Jason Pollard, managing partner of The Usual in Fort Worth, Texas. “Their Julep strainer is great, though I doubt I’ve put it through the strain that I’ve put the Hawthornes through.” (We see what you did there, Pollard).
These are strainers with extreme personality, available in a wide range of highly decorative but still functional designs, spanning from cute animals to leering devils, and from super sleek to lavishly etched. Crafted in Madrid, Spain, many are limited editions, too.
“I love my two Bottesi strainers,” says ms. franky marshall, NYC-based bartender and educator. “They’re unique, sexy showstoppers. They work well, and whenever I use them, people—pros and enthusiasts alike—want to know where I got them.”
The downside: They’re relatively pricey. “They are definitely a splurge, but I felt they were worth it,” marshall says.
Bull in China Hawthorne Strainer
This Pacific Northwest barware purveyor, run by a trio of bar pros, is thoughtfully designed. For example, this model has an extra-dense coil for efficient straining and a wider-than-usual body so it sits atop any size mixing glass or shaker tin without falling in.
“The tight coil on these is everything, as well as being a good size for all hands,” explains Joshua Madrid, bartender at Portland, Oregon’s Multnomah Whiskey Library. “Plus, they’re local and made here in the USA.”
A mash-up of a Hawthorne and wire mesh strainer, this product came to fruition thanks to a spring 2021 Kickstarter.
“It’s a genius idea for high-volume bartenders and even for the home bartender,” says Matthew Grippo, operating partner at Blackbird in San Francisco, and an early backer of the project. “Taking two tools and combining them into one just makes sense and saves time throughout a busy shift.”
Koriko Hawthorne Strainer
Developed by Don Lee, a veteran bar pro and technologist, this sleek and deliberately heavy-duty tool fits neatly into the Koriko shaker tins many bartenders favor.
“It is exceptionally made,” says Michael Fifelski, bar manager of The Harvey House in Madison, Wisconsin. “Its design keeps more ice from getting into a cocktail when straining than any other I have used.”
OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer
Among Hawthorne strainers, this is a bartenders’ top pick. It’s inexpensive, durable and has a soft finger rest for comfort while straining, a bonus for high-volume pros.
“The OXO strainers are a gem and the best-kept secret among seasoned long-time bar veterans,” says Joe Pereira, bartender at Carmine’s in New Bedford, Massachusetts. “They are cost-effective and durable.”
Of note, many bartenders using this model, including Pereira, add a second spring to create a denser straining mechanism and tighter fit within a cocktail tin.
“Purchase multiple ones, remove the coil from one and double them on to one strainer,” Pereira suggests.