How to Strain Cocktails

Getting Drinks From Shaker to Glass

Bartender mixes a martini
Getty Images/Brent Winebrenner

Straining is used almost every time a cocktail is mixed in a cocktail shaker, no matter if they are shaken or stirred. It is a very simple technique, but there are a few tips that you should know and a few different techniques that will be dependent on the type of shaker and the drink's ingredients.

Why Do We Strain?

We strain cocktails because we either want no ice (e.g. Martinis), or fresh ice (almost always recommended) or when we do not want a certain ingredient (such as torn mint leaves) in the finished drink.

Strain Using a Cocktail Shaker

The three-piece cocktail shaker is the easiest to strain drinks from because the strainer is built into one of the lids.

When you use with this strainer, you will want to get a firm grasp on the mixing tin, placing your forefinger and middle finger on top of the strainer lid to secure it (trust me, the strainer lid can and will come off). Slowly tip your cocktail shaker upside down over the serving glass and let the drink pour out. Due to the smaller hole, give it a little shake to move the ice around and ensure you get all of the liquid.

Strain Using a Boston Shaker

The Boston shaker requires that you use a separate tool to strain because there is not one included. Most of the time you will use a Hawthorne strainer, but you may also want to use a julep strainer.

Hawthorne Strainer: This strainer is very common to see in bars. It has a flat top with either 2 or 4 "thumbs" sticking out and a semi-circle of springs underneath.

It is designed to fit snuggly in a shaker tin and holds back ice and almost all solid ingredients, creating a clean, crisp cocktail in the glass.

To use the Hawthorne strainer, place it inside of the mixing tin with the coil facing down. Hold the strainer in place with your forefinger and slowly tip the tin over the serving glass.

When the glass is filled, quickly return the tin to an upright position to avoid any spills on the bar.

Julep Strainer: Use this strainer when straining from the mixing glass of your Boston shaker. This is useful when stirring drinks because it is often recommended to pour ingredients into the clear glass part of your shaker so you can see what and how much you're pouring.

To use the julep strainer, place it inside the mixing glass with the bowl of the spoon facing out (upside down). Hold the strainer on the joint between the handle and bowl using your forefinger while you slowly tip the mixing glass over the serving glass. When the glass is filled, quickly return the tin to an upright position.

Breaking the Shaker: This is a method of straining that some professional bartenders like to use. Essentially, you are going to crack the seal of the Boston shaker and carefully pour the drink into the serving glass through the small gap you create between the two pieces of the shaker. The trick is to control the pour without letting any ice fall through the gap or force the two pieces apart, therefore dumping the entire drink. It requires practice and it's recommended to do so with water. Also, this will not strain out any herbs or small solids.

Some Boston shakers, like the Quick Strain Tins, have strainer holes built into the walls and make quick work of straining.

Double or Fine Straining

On occasion, ​you will come across cocktail recipes that suggest double straining (e.g. Watermelon Cooler and Basil North). This is often used when the cocktail is mixed using torn herbs and other small solid ingredients that are not desired in the drink. When double straining, you are running the drink through two strainers, one of those mentioned above and a fine mesh strainer.

To double strain, place your regular strainer in or on the cocktail shaker and hold a fine mesh strainer by its handle over your glass. Pour through both strainers into the glass, anything that made it through the first strainer will (hopefully) be caught in the mesh. If your mesh strainer is larger than the diameter of the glass, be sure to pour slowly so your liquid doesn't splash over the rim.

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