The Hawthorne strainer is the predominant strainer found behind home and commercial bars around the world. It is as necessary to modern cocktails as the cocktail shaker. As far as bar tools go the Hawthorne strainer came a bit late to the party, but it helped to revolutionise the cocktail game like all other cocktailing tools did. Many a cocktail we drink today would be entirely different without the Hawthorne strainers existence. Read on to find out its history, how to use it and what cocktails call for the use of a Hawthorne Strainer.

History

In the late-1800s, as the Julep Strainer, was gaining popularity, the Hawthorne strainer was invented and patented to provide a different and better strain for cocktails. Ironically, it was first patented as the “Julep Strainer”, although this name dropped off rather quickly; people probably weren’t happy that it was attempting to take not only the spot but also the name of their current favourite strainer.

They were modelled after Chinese tea strainers, however the easily removable and cleanable coil did most of the straining work. As ice rose in popularity and availability across the country and as new drinks were made using this abundance of frozen water, the Hawthorne strainer with its excellent straining capability became more and more common.

The Hawthorne strainer was not actually called the Hawthorne strainer up until a few decades ago, rather than simply being called a “cocktail strainer”. It garnered its name not from its creator or the place where it was made, but from a bar owned by the gentleman whom owned the patent to the piece. Originally the name Hawthorne was stamped into the Hawthorne strainer, but this practice dropped off after a couple of decades.

Appearance and Variations

The Hawthorne strainer was designed to fit snuggly over any glass or shaker without locking onto it, allowing for easy removal. Typically it has a 1.5-2 inch handle and 2 or more prongs sticking out from a round flat head plate over the edges of the vessel upon which you put it. This head plate can come with a variety of perforations, slots and holes in it, the most common being two tabs which run around its edges, close the rim, with the rest of the head plate perforated with small-ish size holes. The two tabs running around the edge are bent downward and it is on these that the tightly coiled straining spring is slotted onto; easy to remove and easy to replace. Atop the strainer is a tab with which you can push the strainer over the edge of the vessel containing your cocktail to be strained; engaging the double strain function.

This popular version of the Hawthorne strainer is still relatively unchanged since its conception. Some may use a tighter spring, some have more of less holes, some rearrange these holes, some have longer handles. Others are coated with different metals, colours, and come in different modernist shapes. But they’re all essentially the same. There is a working version and no one needs to, or desires to, change that. That being said, one is being developed which combines the Hawthorne strainer along with a fine mesh strainer.

Using a Hawthorne Strainer

bartender straining a cocktail

Using a Hawthorne strainer is a simple undertaking however some rush the process and don’t double strain their cocktails. This defeats the purpose of the Hawthorne strainer and almost renders the straining process useless. Here’s how to use a Hawthorne strainer.

  1. Place the Hawthorne strainer over the opening of the container whose contents you wish to strain.
  2. Push the tab down to “close the gate”, allowing you to double strain the cocktail.
  3. Slowly pour the cocktail through the strainer into your chosen servicing glass.

This third point is where people mess up. They try to pour the cocktail too quickly through the strainer allowing the little shards of ice that the strainer is designed to keep in to seep out into the drink; thus undoing the reason for which we strain cocktails through a Hawthorne strainer.

Common Cocktails Calling for a Hawthorne Strainer

The Hawthorne strainer is - pretty obviously - used for straining cocktails. More specifically it is used for fine straining shaken cocktail which will have shards of ice in them. The Hawthorne strainer is used in the dispensing of many a classic and modern classic cocktail, and almost all cocktail served “up”. Here’s a list of those cocktails, it is nowhere near exhaustive.

  • Martini
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Daiquiri
  • Sours
  • Smashes
  • Margarita
  • Kamikaze

It is not unheard of for the Hawthorne strainer to be the only strainer found behind a bar. There it is used for the straining of all cocktails, those stirred and shaken. Stirred cocktails gain no benefit from being strained through a Hawthorne strainer, however it does them no harm either.