Cocktail 101: How To Strain a Cocktail


If you've been following along the last few weeks, you now have a cocktail that's shaken or stirred and ready to be strained and served, whether that's a mixing glass full of martini or a Pan-American Clipper in a shaker.

To strain, you'll need a cocktail strainer, naturally, and a couple of types are available:

  • Hawthorne strainer—so named for a once-prominent brand name of such strainers (rather like the way Kleenex is often used as a generic for facial tissue). A Hawthorne strainer consists of a flat disc to which is affixed a coiled spring. The spring traps large chunks or slivers of ice and other solid ingredients, such as muddled fruit or mint leaves.
  • Julep strainer—so named because it was originally meant to serve mint juleps. In the years before the drinking straw was popularized, the julep strainer allowed a drinker to quaff a julep without getting a faceful of crushed ice and mint. Imbibers held the ice and mint back with the strainer while sipping the julep. A julep strainer consists of a perforated bowl-shaped cup with an attached handle.
MIchael Dietsch

Why Two? And Which One Should I Use?

Here's a secret: You don't need both types, but they're both so inexpensive that it won't hurt your wallet to have both. A julep strainer will run you around four or five bucks, and a basic Hawthorne is about the same. (Barman's tip: spring for the more expensive Oxo or WMF model of Hawthorne if you can; they're worth the extra cost because they're easier to use, more comfortable to hold, and sturdier.)

Traditionally, the julep strainer is used when straining a cocktail from a mixing glass, and the Hawthorne when straining from a mixing tin. The reason is simple: The julep strainer fits a mixing glass better than a Hawthorne does, and the Hawthorne's a better fit than a julep when using a tin.

I usually make a mess when straining from a glass using a Hawthorne strainer, so I follow tradition here and keep each type of strainer in its place.

How to Strain Using a Julep Strainer

What you'll need:

  • Mixing glass full of cocktail
  • Julep strainer
  • Chilled serving glass

What you'll do:

  1. Place the julep strainer in the glass, with the bowl of the strainer "cupping" the ice, like a bowl placed upside down.
  2. Grab the glass near its rim, using your dominant hand. Using your index finger, hold the strainer against the ice. Lift the mixing glass, tilt it over the serving glass, and pour.

How to Strain Using a Hawthorne Strainer

What you'll need:

  • Mixing tin full of cocktail
  • Hawthorne strainer
  • Chilled serving glass

What you'll do:

  1. Place the Hawthorne strainer atop the mixing tin, using the strainer's tabs to keep it from falling into the tin.
  2. Grasp the tin near the top, using your dominant hand. Use your index finger or first two fingers to hold the strainer in place.
  1. Optional: Using your fingers, slide the strainer forward against the tin, so that no gap remains between the front rim of the strainer and the lip of the tin. (I find this helps keep tiny shards of ice inside the tin and out of my drink. I hate shards of ice in a cocktail, but some reprobates actually like an ice floe in a cocktail. I try to avoid such people; they're usually Justin Bieber fans. This technique also keeps bits of fruit and muddled leaves in the tin and out of your glass.)
  2. Lift the mixing tin, holding the strainer in place with one or two fingers. Tilt it over the serving glass, and pour.
  3. When nearly all the cocktail is in the glass, snap your wrist once toward the glass and again away from it, to remove the last few drops of cocktail from the shaker tin.

When Single-Straining Just Won't Cut It

Some cocktails call for an extra step, a special bit of finesse to make them smooth and visually satisfying. When you're straining a cocktail that contains fruit or mint (or other leaves), it's easy when straining to let little bits of fruit pulp or muddled leaves slip through a Hawthorne strainer, muddy up your cocktail, and provide an unpleasant texture.


Using a fine mesh strainer, such as a hand-held tea strainer, allows you to filter out those bits of flora (along with tiny shards of ice) and present a crisp and perfectly clear cocktail.

What you'll need:

  • Mixing tin full of cocktail
  • Hawthorne strainer
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Chilled serving glass

What you'll do:

Strain the drink with a Hawthorne strainer as instructed above, but use your non-dominant hand to hold a mesh strainer above the glass. (If the strainer fits into the glass, you can also rest it on the glass's rim.) Strain the cocktail from the Hawthorne strainer through the mesh strainer and into the glass.