Strainers are an essential part of any well-equipped bar, and these nifty tools will sift and strain out solids creating a perfectly smooth drink. But what exactly is the Hawthorne Strainer? Read on to find out its history, how to use it and which cocktails need one.

The history

The Hawthorne Strainer is the predominant cocktail strainer you'll find behind any decent home or commercial bar around the world, and it's as necessary to modern cocktails as the Boston 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. In fact, many of the cocktails we drink today would be entirely different without Hawthorne strainers.

In the late-1800s, as the Julep Strainer, was gaining popularity but it wasn't perfect. So, the Hawthorne cocktail strainer was invented by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Boston bar, who patented the tool to provide a different and better strain for cocktails.

These bartender basics were modelled on Chinese tea strainers, however the easily removable and cleanable coil did most of the straining work. And as ice in drinks rose in both popularity and availability across the country, the Hawthorne strainer with its excellent straining skills became more and more common.

However, the Hawthorne strainer was not actually named so until a few decades ago, and before was simply called a “cocktail strainer”. Originally the name Hawthorne was stamped into the Hawthorne strainer, but this practice dropped off after some years.

Appearance and variations

Bartender straining with Hawthorne Strainer

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. The spring acting as another way to strain the drink and allowing for more control. 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.

These Hawthorne cocktail strainers have remained largely unchanged since their conception. Some may use a tighter spring, some have more or less holes, some rearrange these holes, some have longer handles.

Others are coated with stainless steel, in different 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 currently being developed which combines the Hawthorne Strainer along with a fine mesh strainer.

Using a Hawthorne Strainer

Bartender using Hawthorne Strainer with cocktails

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.

Cocktails that need a Hawthorne Strainer

The Hawthorne strainer is - obviously - used for straining cocktails. More specifically it is used for fine straining shaken cocktails which will have large chunks of ice in them. This cocktail strainer is used in the dispensing of many a classic and modern cocktail, and almost all cocktails that are served “up”. Here’s a list of those cocktails, although 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 cocktail strainer found behind a bar. There it is used for the straining of all cocktails, those stirred and shaken. Stirred cocktails prepared in a mixing glass gain no benefit from being strained through a Hawthorne Strainer, however it does them no harm either.


Want to start using the Hawthorne Strainer behind the bar professionally? Learn more about our EBS Bartender Courses