Do We Need to Use a Julep Strainer at All?
To answer this question for myself, I tried every Hawthorne and julep strainer with every shaker and mixing glass I could get my and hands on. In the end, my conclusion is admittedly a bit of cop out. Basically, I don’t think using a julep strainer makes a huge difference, but I still like doing it.
First let me bust some claims I’ve heard as to why a julep strainer is better for stirred cocktails. Many say that it is because it creates fewer bubbles in the cocktail. The thinking here is because a julep strainer rests inside the mixing glass, the cocktail to flows gently off the ice, preserving a smoother, silkier texture, which of course is the whole purpose of stirring a cocktail. Whereas a Hawthorne is perched on top of the mixing vessel, so the cocktail and ice fall forward and crash against the strainer together, creating damaging aeration.
This is a nice theory, and one that I once subscribed to. But in a blind taste, it's virtually impossible to tell if a cocktail was strained with a Hawthorne or julep strainer. Sure, a Hawthorne may add an extra bubble or two, but it will dissipate in seconds, and won’t change the flavor. So in my experience the strainer you use has barely any impact on the finished cocktail, if any.
That being said, while the julep strainer may not make a huge difference in a cocktail vacuum, I still think it's worth keeping around. For one, the aesthetics cannot be denied. The julep strainer/mixing glass pairing is strikingly beautiful, particularly when compared to the utilitarian Hawthorne/shaker combo. But there are some practical benefits as well, particularly for busy bartenders. Julep strainers provide a gentler flow that you can see starting a couple inches inside the glass, rather than flowing out of the front like a Hawthorne. This may not change the drink much, but it gives you more awareness and control which means less dripping, and cleaner working. Granted this is a negligible factor, and only really noticeable in high volume situations, but to me, I do feel it makes a difference.
Or maybe I’m just trying to justify my own routines because I'm a creature of habit. Either way, I'm going to keep using julep strainer for stirring cocktails, because I'm like doing it that way, and it looks pretty. You can make your own call.
Working with each strainer has it's particulars.
Here's what you need to know to get the most out of them.
Basic Straining Process
Whether you're using a Hawthorne of Julep strainer, the basic method is essentially the same. The only difference is a Hawthorne sits on top of the mixing vessel, while a julep rests inside it at an angle. Specifics of using each are below.
Step 1: Place the strainer over the mixing vessel with the completed cocktail. With Hawthornes the spring side should be down, so it can catch ice chips and muddled debris.
Step 2: Hold it in place with your index finger.
Step 3: Wrap your hand under the handle and around the mixing vessel to grip.
Step 4: Lift, tip and strain away!
Straining with a Hawthorne Strainer
The Hawthorne is the most versatile type of strainer. Its flexible spring and prongs jutting out allow it to conform to a variety of different sized mixing vessels. It is used exclusively with large shaker tins and shaken cocktails for two primary reasons. One julep strainers are too small for most shakers and fall right in, and two, they better preserve the lively, bubbly texture you get when you shake a cocktail. Which is the whole point.
But many Hawthornes are also compatible with mixing glasses. They just need to be narrow enough, and are fine for straining stirring cocktails. I call these all-purpose strainers. You can see a few examples of them here.
If you have an all-purpose Hawthorne strainer you can use it exclusively, and not even bother with a julep strainer. I'm not personally quite ready to do away with the julep altogether. Old habits die hard, and julep strainers have their advantages, which I'll get into more in my assessment of this question below.
Strains Slower, More Thoroughly and creates a Wider Stream
When the gap is closed, only the finest solids make it into the glass, but the flow is slowed down and the stream becomes spread out across the holes in the front. This is potentially messier and if you're working quickly sometimes the drink will even drip out the sides. However, this "spreading of the stream" issue is minimized if you have a strainer with, what I call, "superior gate control".
Straining with a Fine Strainer (aka Double Straining)
A fine strainer is used as a second strainer for straining "insurance", typically in conjunction with Hawthorne strainers and shaken cocktails because those will contain more ice chips and are more likely to have muddled ingredients - neither of which is common with stirred drinks.
Using a fine strainer is as simple as it looks. Hold it over the glass and pour the cocktail through to strain it a second time. Whether or not to use a fine strainer is a matter of personal preference. I use them any time I've muddled something or a shaken drink is being served straight up, because I prefer cocktails to have a more pristine texture. But many people enjoy the aesthetic and texture of mint bits or ice shards in their drink. You do you.
One issue you may run into with a fine strainer is it can clog up and strain slowly, or even stop altogether, when a cocktail is particularly viscous or has a lot of muddled pieces. There are few methods used to combat this. You can jiggle the fine strainer slightly or tap it with the side of the shaker. But what I usually do hit the top of the fine strainer with the front end of the shaker, even as I'm straining, as depicted in the two photos across the page. That keeps it from clogging up in the first place.
Straining is one of the final steps in cocktail preparation. It is done, fittingly, with a strainer, which allows the cocktail to be poured into a glass while withholding the ice and any muddled ingredients. For the most part, straining a cocktail is very straightforward. You simply secure the strainer on to the mixing vessel, tip, and pour. I'm saying this because a swamp of bartender minutiae is discussed on this page. And while I think it's all interesting and valid, don't let my nerdiness cause you to over think anything. Straining is easy and doesn't need to be given much consideration.
Types of Cocktail Strainers - There are two primary styles of strainer: the hawthorne strainer - which has the metal coil and prongs sticking out, and the julep strainer - with is perforated all over with holes and has round edges. A third lesser used, but still important, type is the conical fine strainer. This is only used as a second strainer, not by itself, to catch residual ice chips and bits of muddled ingredients that make it through the first strainer, if so desired. A more in-depth look at the different types of strainers available can be found on the Strainers page.
Traditional Strainer & Mixing Vessel Pairings - In the cocktail industry certain types of strainers are paired with certain mixing vessels, and that is how I've depicted their use on this page. Hawthorne strainers are used with metal shaker tins for straining shaken cocktails, while julep strainers are reserved only for straining stirred cocktails from mixing glasses. These couplings are illustrated in the pictures across the page.
Because most professional bartenders follow these pairing guidelines, many tools are now designed to reflect them, which makes them somewhat beneficial, functionally at least. But as far as the actual drink goes, it doesn't make a difference what kind of strainer you use. As long as the cocktail gets into the glass and the ice stays in the mixing vessel, you've succeeded.
Except in these cases:
Here are a few scenarios when I, in the words of Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham, "close the gate!"
Egg White Cocktails - Egg white cocktails are all about the frothy texture, which is diminished when they're run through a fine strainer. Simply closing the gate preserves the froth, which in turn conveniently envelops any ice chips, so there’s no sacrifice in texture.
Large Modern Mixing Glasses (pictured) - When you're using a large modern mixing glasses to stir two, three or more cocktails, it can be difficult to strain without the cocktail dripping down the sides because they are filled to the brim. Using a Hawthorne - which fits perfectly because these mixing glasses are so wide - and closing the gate solves this problem. The stream doesn't drip and is and narrowed down, giving you better control of your aim - as you can see in the picture across the page. This works so well because all modern mixing glasses have pour spouts for the cocktail to flow through, so the spreading of the stream is never a problem.
To Slow Things Down During a Rush - When you’re busy and pouring at all kinds of awkward angles it's nice to have the option of closing the gate to slow things down, particularly if you have one with superior gate control. It allows you to be more accurate, with less spillage. It can also help to reduce splash back in the glass if your shaker is very full, or you're pouring quickly into a shallow the glass.
To Open or Close the "Gate"
Here's some of that bartender minutia I warned about at the top of the page...
The "gate" is a trade term that refers to the gap between the edge of a Hawthorne strainer and the mixing vessel. Because of the adjustable spring, the strainer can be pushed forward so the two edges meet and the gap is closed, or pulled back so the gap is widened. This is called closing or opening the gate, respectively. It can be controlled using the little tab that all Hawthornes have at the base of their handle.
For some, the gate is a central element to operating a Hawthorne strainer. For others, it's a trivial non-factor. Both are valid, depending on your perspective. It can be definitely be helpful in certain situations, which I'll get into below, but when I started bartending, I never concerned myself with the gate and the drinks came out just fine. So if this sections feels like it's delving too deep into bartender nerdiness for your taste, feel free to disregard it. You can make delicious drinks no matter what the gate is doing. The rest of you nerds, follow me...
How & When I Use the Gate
Whether to utilize the gate or not, depends on the cocktail, bar and bartender's preference. It can be used to impact the cocktail directly, or aid speed and efficiency. Question, experiment, and then do what works best for you. Based on my experiences, here's what works best for me:
I Usually leave it Open (and use a fine strainer if necessary).
Regardless of the Hawthorne strainer I'm using, I generally leave the gate open because it's faster. When I want my drink more finely strained I use a fine strainer. In general it will strain just as thoroughly as a closed gate, if not more so, particularly when there are muddled ingredients.
Though admittedly, my reasoning for this is due to the fact that I make the majority of my cocktails in a high volume cocktail environment where speed is a factor. Straining slowly, will always strain more thoroughly.
Built in Strainer: Three - Piece Shaker
Finally, there's the three piece shaker, which removes the need for a separate strainer entirely because it has one built right in. This is indeed very convenient and works perfectly fine, but there are some drawbacks. The built in strainer is quite narrow, so it strains much more slowly. This isn't a huge issue for cocktails at home of course, unless you're as impatient as I am.
But a bigger problem arises when there are muddled ingredients. That narrow strainer clogs up easily which reduces the stream to a trickle. This is amplified when making multiple drinks at once, and it's not a problem you can jiggle your way out of, as with the fine strainer.
If you find of those situations arise when using this shaker, you might want to consider using a separate Hawthorne strainer. You can simply take off the whole top piece off and strain as outlined above.
Straining with a Julep Strainer
With no prongs or springy coil, the julep strainer does not have the Hawthorne's multifunctional adaptability, but it still plays an important role in a bar kit (or does it?).
As we've covered above, Julep strainers are the modern bartender's conventional choice for straining stirred cocktails from mixing glasses. Instead of sitting on top, they rest inside the mixing glass at an angle, on top of the ice. All you need to do is ensure the strainer is secure inside the glass before pouring. There are two basic ways of doing this:
Press down on the strainer with your index finger, as you would a Hawthorne strainer, to hold it in place.
Hook your finger over the handle and pull down. This creates leverage against the opposite side of the glass.
Both work fine, though if the mixing glass is on the larger side you'll probably need to use the second approach. As always, do what feels right to you.
As alluded to above, most large modern mixing glasses that are designed to fits three or more cocktails are too big for most julep strainers. For those you'll need to use a Hawthorne.
Strains Faster, Less Thoroughly and Preserves a Narrow Stream
With a wider gap between the strainer and shaker, more ice chips and muddled bits will make their way into the glass. But the strain is much quicker, and the stream is narrower which so this is all around cleaner and more manageable.
Modern Hawthornes with "Superior Gate Control"
Many the newer Hawthorne strainers are designed with the gate in mind. I call these, for lack of a better term, Superior Gate Control strainers. You can find them grouped together along with the other types of Hawthornes on the strainers page.
The main benefit of these is the stream remains nice and narrow. This makes the gate a much more effective tool. In many cases, though not all, these can eliminate the need for a fine strainer.
Split Stream Strain - The specific strainer is this photo is the Koriko Hawthorne from Cocktail Kingdom. It is designed to be able to split the stream cleanly in half when the gate is closed, as you can see across the page. This allows bartenders to strain into two different glasses with one strain, when the opportunity arises, which is a nifty little trick.
Why are Julep Strainers Paired with Mixing Glasses?
When the classic cocktails began their comeback sometime in the mid-1980s, there weren't established systems in place for bartenders to follow. This type of cocktail culture had been largely non-existent for decades, so new habits and systems were formed. I think the hawthorne/shaker and julep/mixing glass pairings arose out of that formative climate.
Back then cocktails were being stirring in standard pint glasses, which many Hawthorne strainers were too wide for, but juleps strainers fit into perfectly. So paring a julep strainer with a mixing glass became a habit that was eventually established as a system. Today, julep strainers are designed to pair with mixing glasses and vice/versa. But does it have to be that way?
Now that we have Hawthornes narrow enough to be used with mixing glasses, particularly the modern style mixing glasses, do we need julep strainers? Or more specifically, is there a tangible reason why julep strainers are better for straining stirred cocktails from mixing glasses? Or is it just an outdated tradition?
Closing the gate when straining multiple cocktails from large mixing glasses helps to avoid dripping down the sides.
Hitting the top of the fine strainer with the front end of your shaker helps to keep it from clogging up.