Straining is the second most used skill in a bartenders arsenal after jiggering. Yet, as easy as it looks to perform, it is not a carefree skill and there are a pitfall or two that many a bartender, beginner and experienced, get caught in. Straining is the last thing you will do to a drink before garnishing it, and when not executed correctly it can turn an excellently measured and prepared drink into a mediocre final product. Here we discuss all the faucets of straining, from the Why to the How To.
We strain cocktails for the simple reason that, when we create them, not only do we want to have our drinks come out the same every time, but we also want to be able to keep it that way after it has left the bartender and has been given to the customer. We use ice to chill beverages, through either shaking or stirring whilst simultaneously mixing our ingredients, and then we use fresh ice or a chilled glass for serving.
Now if we left the drink sitting on the ice cubes with which we had stirred or shaken it, dilution would continue to happen at a faster rate than if we transferred the now cold cocktail to fresh ice or a chilled glass which hasn’t been in contact with room temperature liquids. After shaking or stirring, straining our cold and amalgamated cocktail over fresh ice or into a chilled glass allows us to more precisely control the drinking experience of the customer, ensuring minimum dilution and maximum flavour.
Which Strainer When?
There are three strainers found behind the bar, the julep strainer, the hawthorne strainer, and the fine mesh strainer. The first two are used as stand alone strainers, and the fine mesh strainer can be used in collaboration with the hawthorne strainer to enact the double strain technique. Below are the situations in which you’d likely use each of these strainers.
Julep: Julep strainers are only used to strain stirred drinks like the Manhattan, the sazerac and negronis. Using one to strain a shaken drink will result in a lot of ice shards slipping through its large holes. Want to learn more about the julep strainer? Click here to read our article delving into its interesting history and much, much more!
Hawthorne Strainer: The hawthorne strainer is used to strain shaken drinks like the margarita, sours and the cosmopolitan. It provides a much finer strain than the julep strainer - if used correctly! - yet it can also be used to strain stirred drinks just as well as a julep strainer; although there are some purists out there who still insist that stirred drinks need to be strained through a julep strainer. If you want to know more about the hawthorne strainer, click here to be swept away to our article that deals with exactly that!
Fine Mesh Strainer: This kitchen-esque piece of equipment is actually rarely used behind the bar. It is only ever used in conjunction with the hawthorne strainer to provide the double strain or fine strain. This is done when you are shaking a cocktail with fresh herbs and fruits. The action of shaking is going to cause these ingredients to partially disintegrate and using the fine mesh strainer to double strain these concoctions means that these micro pieces of plant material won’t end up in the glass.
In the introduction it was mentioned that there are pitfalls that bartenders new and old can fall victim to. Fortunately, the largest trap is also its own antidote and this is habit. If you learn good straining habits they’ll stay with you for life, and you’ll also know when you’re slipping by the wayside. If you start with bad habits then it’s a bit of an uphill struggle to undo what you’ve taught yourself and remaster the strain. Below are methods for using all types of strainers.
Julep strainer: Place the bowl of the strainer into the glass with the cupped face facing down and the flat side facing out of the glass. Hold the glass firmly near the rim and press your finger against the back of the strainer, just above where the handle ends on the back plate, and pour the beverage through the strainer into your service glass. The julep strainer can be used either way up however the bowl facing down method is considered to be more traditional and, by some, better. Is there much difference? Not really.
Hawthorne strainer: Place the strainer atop the mixing tin, within which your shaken cocktail lies. There is a tab atop the strainer. Push this tab away from the handle to “close the gate” (initiate a finer strain) and apply pressure with that finger to keep the strainer in place whilst you gently pour your cocktail into your service glass. To use a hawthorne strainer to strain stirred cocktail simply skip pushing the tab down and “closing the gate”, and allow the liquid to flow unrestricted!
Fine mesh strainer: To use a fine mesh strainer complete the steps above with the hawthorne strainer, however, before you begin pouring, hold the fine mesh strainer between the shaker, hawthorne strainer atop, and your service glass. Slowly, and simply, pour your cocktail out of the shaker through the hawthorne strainer, through the mesh strainer and into the glass.
Remember that repetition is the best way to build good habits and ensure that you repeat these steps whilst you’re learning the art of straining will ensure future success for years to come! If you’re looking for more information on these tools then check out our articles on the julep strainer and the hawthorne strainer; part of our series on bar tools!
For more instruction on straining, check out our online bar courses.