The Julep Strainer was the first of the Strainer family, emerging when ice became a staple behind the bar and new and wonderful creations - commonplace to us now - were gracing bar-tops in the 19th century. It is a strainer that began as a product to aid drinkers when they were consuming beverages with crushed ice. With the evolution of cocktail culture and the rise of other bar tools, it has been relegated to the backbar, gathering dust and rarely used by the average bartender. It is seeing a small resurgence amongst cocktail aficionados and discerning cocktail bars to strain stirred cocktails.
The Julep Strainer was the first purpose-built cocktail strainer. Before the Julep Strainer, bartenders were using tea strainers, slotted spoons and a myriad of other non-purpose tools which then evolved into the Julep Strainer; the first cocktail designated strainer. The Julep Strainer was originally called an “ice scoop” and it wasn’t until later that the term “strainer” gained popularity.
The strainer was originally intended to be used by the drinker, not the bartender. The drinker would use the strainer to hold back the ice in their drink whilst they took a sip, especially when drinking beverages made with crushed ice. This, coupled with the popularity of the beard during the mid-to-late 19th century, made the Julep Strainer a very popular accessory, so popular that they even became common wedding and birthday gifts!
Appearance and Use
The Julep Strainer looks like an oversized, deep-lipped spoon with a short stubby handle, and it fits angularly and snuggly inside a standard pint glass. It is perforated with small holes to allow liquid, but not slivers of ice, to slip through it. This is its appearance now but this has evolved slightly over time, as have the drinking vessels that we use it with.
Using the Julep Strainer requires no special skill or knowledge like some other bar tools, however technique is critical to stop one from embarrassing themselves. The technique only requires a firm hold, ensuring that the angled strainer is touching the other side of glass where the liquid is poured from. The firm pressure is required to ensure that the strainer doesn’t slip from your finger and allow an avalanche of ice to spill into the glass or, even worse, your mouth.
The Elements of a Julep Strainer
If you’re looking to purchase a Julep Strainer, either for your home bar or for a working bar, there are three main design and functionality factors to consider; although it is rare for designs to deviate from today’s standard which is described above. First and foremost though, Julep Strainers are always made of metal. Don’t consider one in any other material; metal is easier to clean and easier to work with when used alongside glass and metal shakers.
Handle - More often than not the Julep Strainer will have a short stubby handle rather than a long one like a real spoon. Although longer ones can be bought and used, many prefer the shorter handled versions for ease of use. Back in the day, Julep Strainers were commonly found with large indents in their handles and these were intended for hooking over the rim of the drinkers glass to help hold them in place whilst drinking through them. Because this is such an uncommon practice nowadays - with the strainer more commonly used by the bartender and not the drinker - this style of strainer is much less in demand and therefore much harder to find.
Scalloped or Oval - Oval strainers create a much snugger fit with the standard pint glass than scalloped strainers. That being said, the edges of scalloped strainers provide small spaces for liquid to flow freely; especially when we’re concerned with the tail-end of a beverage. Choosing either is often down to personal preference.
Hole Size - This is pretty much uniform across the board. However, it is good to note that some Julep Strainers can have smaller holes whilst others can have larger and fewer holes. Just think that fewer, smaller holes have less chance of allowing any shards of ice to pass through.
The cocktails for which the drinker uses the Julep Strainer and the cocktails for which a bartender uses the Julep Strainer vary quite drastically.
Uses as a Bartender - Although using the Julep Strainer is a lost art, bartenders can use it to strain stirred cocktails such as Manhattans, Negronis, Rob Roys, Sazeracs, etc.
Uses as a Drinker - If you work in a chic establishment where you’re going to be providing clients with strainers or you just fancy using one to drink with at home, there are very few cocktails with which you’ll benefit from using this strainer. All these cocktails call for crushed ice and the most popular include the Mint Julep and the Whiskey Smash.
Although it is now hardly used, the julep strainer is seeing a resurgence of use in edgy and forward-thinking cocktail bars. It is always useful to have one on your bar, even if it is only used as a backup for your Hawthorne Strainer.
Want to know more about the straining technique? Check out our other article!