First Bar Tool Purchases – Cocktail Strainer
My First Bar Tool Purchases series continues with the strainer. Here are links to the first two parts on cocktail shakers and jiggers. In your kitchen you’ll probably have stand-ins for tools like spoons, knives, something to muddle, etc. so once you have at least the cocktail shaker, jigger and strainer, you’re good to go!
3. Strainer (Hawthorne type)
The other tools make sense: a jigger is a type of measuring cup and the cocktail shaker is the place where everything gets mixed together. Then you get to the funny shaped thing with the spring coil and holes in it – the strainer. The strainer is probably the strangest looking of the bar tools to a newcomer but once you get one in hand and set it on a mixing tin, it all starts to make sense. It just snaps into place thanks to the spring that makes it fit snugly and the little “arms” hold it on the edge of the tin.
Many cocktails are meant to be served “up,” which means shaken with ice and then strained into an empty glass. Think martinis, manhattans, negronis. The point of straining is to keep all the big pieces of ice, fruit, herbs, etc. out of your drink. (With that in mind, it’s strange how many times I’ve been served martinis with tons of icy bits floating around. Apparently many bartenders don’t worry about it.)
The last piece of my initial BevMo purchase, along with the previously mentioned shaker and jigger, was this Epic Cocktail Strainer. Epic refers to the brand name and not its qualifications.
The two types of strainers are Hawthorne and julep strainers. The one shown and described above is a Hawthorne. These are used when you shake a drink. Juleps are much simpler spoon shaped tools, used to strain a drink when it has been stirred. Here’s an image of a julep strainer.
I didn’t have a julep strainer when I made my first martinis (which were stirred) and the Hawthorne strainer worked just fine. What I don’t know yet is whether the two are used for each situation because of tradition or actual utility. If I find out, I’ll let you know. If you know, please clue me in.
By the way, if you’re wondering like I did why it’s called a Hawthorne strainer, read this article.
Once you’ve shaken the drink and opened the shaker, pop the strainer over the opening of the tin. As you grab the tin put your index finger over the strainer to hold it in place. Pour into a glass. See the following illustration:
At around $4 it’s not a big expense and I don’t anticipate running across super high-end “Cadillac” strainers that will rock my world. This strainer does the trick and I haven’t felt the need to look for more options – yet. If I get another mixing tin that has a different size opening, I may need a second. I’ll also look at some with tighter spring coils. People mention that a tighter coil is better at sifting out little shards of ice. Not having any other strainers to make a comparison, I’d still say this one isn’t tight but there IS a workaround…
Bonus: Rare Hawthorne Strainer Tip
I think I learned this from Jim Meehan’s fantastic iOS app Speakeasy Cocktails and found it interesting that I hadn’t seen this advice anywhere else before. When the strainer is set in the tin, you can push it toward the spring on the pouring edge to make the seal tighter. This front section is called the gate and it’s an effective way to hold back the chunks. Just by pushing with your finger you can adjust how much you close the gate and how much you strain out. Use the gate with moderation though, because I’ve found pushing it too far can slow the flow of liquid to a trickle, turning the strainer into a stopper. Try it and you’ll see.
I’ll talk more about julep strainers in an upcoming post.