Cocktail Strainers: Barware Basics

A well-made cocktail should not only look good, but also taste delicious and the cocktail strainer is an integral part of creating a proper drink. Whether you’re following a recipe or assembling you’re favorite drink freestyle, a cocktail strainer is an important tool to ensure that the result is exactly as intended. Needless to say, it’s a pretty important piece of barware, so in this guide we’ll provide some of the details you need to know when selection a cocktail strainer for your home bar.
Bartender Using a Bar Strainer

What is a Cocktail Strainer?

Simply put, a cocktail strainer is a bartending tool used to remove solid materials from the liquid in the making of a drink. Also known as a bar strainer, the cocktail strainer is typically used after a drink has been shaken or stirred to remove the ice, fruit or other solids that shouldn’t find their way into the resulting cocktail.

Types of Cocktail Strainers

There are three primary types of cocktails strainers; the Hawthorne Strainer, the Julep strainer and the fine mesh strainer. Each bar strainer has its own application, which we’ll address as we get into the details surrounding each type.

Hawthorne Strainer

Perhaps the most recognizable, the Hawthorne strainer features a flat, perforated piece of metal which is lined with a flexible spring that catches ice and other solids. Named for a once-popular brand of bar strainer, the Hawthorne is the most popular type of cocktail strainer in both home and professional bartending.

The Hawthorne strainer has both strengths and weaknesses depending on your situation, including:

Hawthorne Strainer
Better Fit for Mixing TinsDifficult to Clean
Can Adapt to Different SizesEasily Damaged

Overall Hawthorne strainers are pretty inexpensive so price shouldn’t be a major consideration when selecting one. Several other consideration that you may want to considerations are comfort, durability and ease of cleaning.

Three Hawthorne Strainer Options

To help you quickly and eaily figure out which Hawthorne strainer may be for you, we’ve identified three options that we’ve either purchased or would purchase ourselves:

  • Winco Stainless Steel 4-Prong Bar Strainer – The is the strainer I currently use. It’s inexpensive and functional, however it’s pretty lightweight and every time I handle it I’m waiting for it to fall apart. But so far, so good. This is a good entry level option.
  • OXO SteeL Cocktail Strainer – If you’ve never purchased an ergonomically-designed OXO product, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you have this one in your hand. It’s exceptionally comfortable and it’s effective design will make you look forward to mixing cocktails. Better yet, 98% of all Amazon buyers gave this item at least four stars.
  • Hawthorne Bar Strainer By Modern Mixologist – This Hawthorne Strainer balances form with function. It’s an attractive piece of equipment that you’ll want in your home bar. Better yet it’s designed by Tony Abou Ganim (aka The Modern Mixologist) who wrote a book by the same name.

Julep Strainer

The original cocktail strainer, the Julep Strainer emerged in the mid-1800s to help cocktail enthusiasts avoid a face full of ice when enjoying their Mint Julep. Believe it or not, the Julep Strainer can be considered the precursor to today’s drink straw.

With a bowl-shaped cup perforated with small hole and has a long handle, the Julep Strainer is designed to be easily held over a mixing glass. Once placed over the glass, the strainer is held with the help of a depression when the bartender can apply pressure with their finger.

Although it’s not seen as frequently, the Julep Strainer is a good for most applications:

Julep Strainer
Better Fit for Mixing GlassesCan be Slow
Easy to Clean

Two Julep Strainers to Consider

Thankfully the Julep Strainer is a pretty straight-forward piece of barware, so it’ll be tough to get confused. Regardless here are two options we have or would consider:

  • Winco Stainless Steel Julep Strainer – I purchased this strainer as my first Julep Strainer and it works well. Honestly it’s not well made and it feels kinda cheap, but what should I expect for < $5? If you’re budget-conscious, this is a good option.
  • HIC Julep Bar Strainer, 18/8 Stainless Steel, 6.25-Inches – When my Winco Julep Strainer gives it up, this will be my go-to. It features a heavier construction and while it costs a little more I think it’s worth it.

Fine Mesh Strainer

No matter if you use a Hawthorne Strainer or a Julep Strainer, sometimes you need a little extra help and that’s where a fine mesh strainer comes in handy. Small shards of ice, bits of fruit and other solids can find their way past these strainers, so an additional filter is necessary. Available in multiple sizes, fine mesh cocktail strainers are typically held directly beneath the first strainer to achieve the proper filtration. In addition, mesh strainers are inexpensive (< $10) and easily found since they are often used to strain hot tea.
Fine Mesh Strainer

Two Strainer Options

Based on our findings, we’ve found little difference between the fine mesh strainers that we’ve encountered. Overall the biggest differences are in the size of the mesh, the comfort of the handle and the size of the strainer. Given our focus on bartending here are two we feel are the best options for a home bar:

  • RSVP Endurance Stainless Steel 3 Inch Conical Strainer – This small strainer is comparable to the one I purchased for my home bar about two years ago. To date its done a good job and overall it was a cost effective choice.
  • OXO Fine Mesh Cocktail Strainer – As previously mentioned, our experience with OXO has been good. Overall buyers of this strainer state that it’s surprisingly strong and stands up to extensive use.

Hawthorne Strainer vs. Julep Strainer

There’s always been some debate about which is better, the Hawthorne Strainer or the Julep Strainer. In our opinion it’s not much of a question; while each has its strengths and weaknesses, cocktail strainers are so inexpensive that you should buy one of each. However, if you’ve got to pick only one it will depend on your situation:

Julep Strainer for the Beginner

For beginning bartenders, the Julep strainer may be a better choice. Paired with a simple mixing glass or smaller mixing tin, it’s durable and easy to control.
Julep Strainer in Use

Hawthorne Strainer for Most Flexibility

More seasoned bartenders may feel that the Hawthorne Strainer is a better choice for a couple reasons. First, it can easily adapt to mixing cups and tins of multiple sizes, which you may use when creating many different types of drinks. Second is speed; it strains drinks faster. Lastly, it looks cool 😉
Hawthorne Strainer in Use

Fine Mesh Strainer for Seriously Smooth Drinks

No matter if you’re using a Julep or Hawthorne strainer, sometimes they simply don’t remove all the pulp, ice chips and collateral damage created by bartending. So it’s the Fine Mesh Strainer to the rescue! Simply pass the liquid through the second strainer to ensure that you’re created a drink that’ll be smooth as a baby’s butt.

Whatever your choice, pick one and you’ll find that you’ll have your straining technique established in no time.

Double Straining Cocktails With a Fine Mesh Strainer

How to Use a Cocktail Strainer

Once the necessary ingredients are present and mixed, you may not quite understand the next step. Check out this video from A Bar Above where Chris explains How to Use a Cocktail Strainer;


Creating a proper cocktail is not complicated, but a good cocktail strainer will make all the difference in the world. It’ll help produce the ideal consistency, mouthfeel and flavor to give you the best possible drink. So whether you start with a Julep Strainer to get your technique down, or jump right into using the Hawthorne, you’re sure to love the results.