A perfectly prepared cocktail is a thing of beauty. Whether you enjoy a crystal clear martini or a crisp daiquiri, the best cocktails are balanced, complex, and visually appealing.
One of the most crucial steps when preparing the ideal cocktail is straining. Straining a cocktail removes any bulky ingredients like ice, herbs, or fruit as the drink is poured into its serving glass.
When it’s time to strain a cocktail, most bartenders turn to the Hawthorne strainer. According to “Imbibe!” (David Wondrich’s history of cocktails), springs were first added to strainers in 1889 and the Hawthorne strainer achieved its familiar form a few short years later. Its simplicity and versatility made it the perfect tool for straining both shaken and stirred drinks and it remains a workhorse behind the bar to this day.
But don’t let the simplicity of the tool fool you: Hawthorne strainers may all look similar, but small design nuances (like spring tightness and handle length) can affect how well each performs. We tested 9 of the most popular strainers on the market to figure out what features matter most and which models are worth your money.
The Winners, at a Glance
The Best Hawthorne Strainer: Poor Man's Kitchen Kilpatrick Fine Strainer
This strainer combines the best aspects of a traditional Hawthorne strainer with a fine mesh strainer to ensure an ultra-thorough strain that prevents even the smallest bits of herbs from reaching the serving glass. It’s also ergonomic, balanced, and easy to use.
The Best Hawthorne Strainer with Prongs: Cocktail Kingdom's Buswell 4-Prong Hawthorne Strainer
Also available at Cocktail Kingdom.
This strainer’s added prongs ensure it’ll fit a wider variety of barware, like shaker tins and mixing glasses. While most pronged strainers have two prongs, the Buswell adds two extra-long prongs, which makes it more versatile and provides extra stability.
- Fit tests: We measured the diameter of each strainer and tested how well it fit onto the opening of Boston shaker tins and a mixing glass. We noted if the front of each strainer fully covered the openings and if the springs fit within each opening.
- Egg white test: For each strainer, we mixed and shook a Whiskey Sour (using 110 grams of ice) and strained. We noted how well each model strained the cocktail, looking for any ice shards or small bits of citrus pulp that made it into the final cocktail.
- Muddled cocktail test: For each strainer, we shook the ingredients of an Old Cuban (using 110 grams of ice), which contains muddled mint leaves, and strained. We noted how well each strainer performed—straining with the gate closed (the position that allows for straining the finest particulates) as far as each strainer would allow. We looked to see how clear each finished cocktail was, noting if there were any small mint pieces, ice shards, and pieces of citrus pulp in the finished cocktail.
- Stirred cocktail test: For each strainer, we mixed a Negroni in a mixing glass (stirring with 110 grams of ice), then strained. We looked at how well each strainer fit on the opening of the mixing glass and whether each strainer successfully and easily held back the ice.
- Usability tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how easy each strainer was to use. We noted design features like the handle length, prongs, number of perforations, and tightness of the spring—discerning what affected usability.
- Cleanup tests: Throughout testing, we noted how easy each strainer was to clean, washing it by hand after every test. We also removed the strainer’s springs to get a deeper clean, noting the ease of removal and replacement.
Why Should Cocktails Be Strained?
Straining a cocktail is done to separate liquid ingredients—like spirits and fruit juice—from solid ingredients such as ice, citrus seeds, or muddled fruit and herbs. Most bartenders and tipplers prefer that their drinks are served clear, with no bits of fruit or herbs floating around in the glass. And, of course, nobody wants to worry about getting a piece of mint stuck in their teeth.
On top of that, straining a cocktail helps prevent over-dilution. Bartenders shake or stir cocktails not only to chill them but to dilute them as well. As the cocktail is shaken, some of the ice melts and mixes with the cocktail, softening harsher flavors and lowering the alcohol content of the drink. When the cocktail gets to the right temperature and degree of dilution (after shaking or stirring a cocktail for about 10 to 15 seconds), it’s separated from the ice and strained into the serving glass.
Types of Cocktail Strainers
There are three primary types of strainers, each one used for slightly different purposes:
- Julep strainers: Julep strainers are a scallop-shaped, metal style of strainer used exclusively for straining cocktails stirred in a mixing glass. The julep strainer works similarly to a colander, separating larger pieces of ice from the finished, chilled cocktail.
- Hawthorne strainers: Hawthorne strainers are the most common and versatile type of cocktail strainer. They consist of a solid, round metal piece designed to fit over the opening of a shaking tin, and a spring that fits inside of the tin that filters out finer particles from a cocktail. Hawthorne strainers, conveniently, can be used with both shaking tins and mixing glasses.
- Fine mesh strainers: When a Hawthorne strainer isn’t enough, some bartenders use a small, conical mesh strainer to filter out tiny ice shards or other particles that are too fine for a Hawthorne strainer to catch. When used in conjunction with a Hawthorne strainer, this process is often called “double straining” or “fine straining.”
How to Use a Hawthorne Strainer
The average Hawthorne strainer has a flat, circular piece with holes cut into it is designed to fit over the opening of a shaking tin or mixing glass. This round piece will often have a tab around the center of it and a handle that can vary in length. On the opposite side of the tab is a coil of springs that encircles the entire strainer. This spring is what separates Hawthorne strainers from other types of strainers. It helps to filter out finer particles like chunks of ice or pieces of herbs or fruit from shaken cocktails.
To use a Hawthorne strainer, place it over the opening of the shaking tin or mixing glass. The side with the spring should fit inside the opening and the flat side should fit flush over the opening of your tin or glass. You should be able to hold the strainer over the opening easily with one hand while having a finger free to push down on the tab on the top. Pushing the tab down closes off some of the openings and contracts the coil on the inside of the strainer. Bartenders sometimes refer to this as “closing the gate,” and it’s useful when a finer strain is necessary.
Once the strainer is in place and the gate is in the desired position, hold the strainer in place with your hand and pour the contents of the shaker tin or glass through the strainer and into a cocktail glass. The strainer should allow the mixed cocktail to pass through while holding back the ice and any other muddled ingredients.
What We Learned
A Tighter Spring = A Better Strain
Most Hawthorne strainers are composed of the same few components, but there were a few design considerations we found impacted performance. The biggest one was how tightly coiled the spring was.
The spring serves two purposes: it can help to hold the strainer in place when fitted inside a shaker tin and determines how well a strainer filters out fine solids.
Our testing showed that the strainers with the most tightly coiled springs performed the best when it came to filtration. The amount of space between each coil varied quite a bit amongst the strainers—anywhere from a half of a millimeter to a few millimeters. The closer the coils were to each other, the less space there was for solids to pass through, so larger chunks of herbs or ice shards stayed in the shaking tin and out of the finished drinks.
Prong or No Prong?
The shape and overall design of the strainer also impacted usability. The flat, circular part of the strainer should be large and wide enough to cover the opening of a Boston shaker tin. The outside should be wide enough in diameter so the strainer stays flush with the opening of the shaking tin and the strainer stays in place while pouring.
Many Hawthorne strainers have prongs or wings that extend beyond the disc. The prongs make it easier for the strainer to fit with tins or mixing glasses with wider openings. For example, our favorite pronged strainer has a width of five inches, while the smallest we tested had about a 3.25-inch width. Most strainers easily fit multiple sizes of shakers or mixing glasses, but more prongs can help with stabilization and fit.
Was It Easy to Close the Gate?
Most strainers also have a tab on the side opposite the spring. The tab is used to push down on the strainer before pouring the drink. As we noted above, pushing down the tab both tightens the coils of the spring and closes off the gap between the strainer and the side of the shaking tin. This practice is done when mixologists want a more finely strained cocktail. The placement, size, and materials the tab are made of all contributed to how easy it was to use. For example, a tab placed near the base of the handle of the strainer that protruded a bit further out was easier to reach and manipulate than a less prominent tab that was closer to the center of the strainer.
Handle Design Differences
Finally, the strainer must be ergonomic and easy to use with one hand while holding the shaking tin. Of course, everyone’s preferences are different, but some design choices like the length of the handle or tab placement affected how the strainer fit in our hand and shaking tin. A longer handle can make the strainer unbalanced when resting on top of a shaker tin, increasing the liklihood it could tip over. Also, depending on how you prefer holding your strainer, it could potentially get in the way when pouring a drink.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Hawthorne Strainer
So, what attributes make for the perfect Hawthorne strainer? First, the strainer must fit over the opening of a shaking tin and stay in place while straining. It should have an easily accessible tab for tightening the springs for a finer strain. And it should be able to filter out all large ingredients from the cocktail and do an adequate job with finer particles, too.
The Best Overall Hawthorne Strainer: Poor Man’s Kitchen Kilpatrick Fine Strainer
What we liked: The Poor Man’s Kitchen Kilpatrick Fine Strainer combined the best features of both a Hawthorne and a mesh strainer. Instead of the classic single, disc-shaped piece of metal with perforations, the face of this strainer is replaced by a stainless steel mesh filter.
Out of all of the strainers we tested, the Kilpatrick did the best job of filtering out fine particles in the cocktail straining tests. The coils of the spring were among the tightest of all of the strainers, too, and when the tab was pressed down and the gate closed, it filtered as cleanly as a double-strained cocktail.
It was also sturdy and well-designed. The placement of the tab at the base of the handle was easy to reach, making fine-straining ergonomic and easy. And the strainer fit perfectly over the opening of a large shaker tin. At 3 3/4 inches, the handle was slightly longer than average, but due to the heavier mesh screen, it didn’t feel unbalanced.
What we didn’t like: Because this strainer had a mesh filter instead of the standard perforations, it was slightly more difficult to clean. The coils on the spring were also pretty tight, which led to small pieces of mint getting stuck between them. But the spring was easily removed for deeper cleaning.
Price at time of publish: $26.
- Diameter: 3.75 inches
- Handle length: 3 inches
- Coil space: 1-millimeter
- Material: Stainless steel
- Unique features: Mesh strainer
The Best Hawthorne Strainer with Prongs: Buswell 4-Prong from Cocktail Kingdom
Also available at Cocktail Kingdom.
What we liked: If you prefer a strainer with prongs, the Buswell 4-prong is your best bet. Prongs are added to strainers to help them fit a variety of different-sized shaking tins or mixing glasses, and this strainer goes one step further with another set of extra-long prongs on either side of the face.
It was no surprise that this strainer fit well on every tin and mixing glass we tested it with. It also boasted one of the tightest coils, so it did a good job filtering fine particles. (just not quite as well as our top pick).
What we didn’t like: If you prefer a shorter handle or a more compact Hawthorne strainer, this one may not be the pick for you. Because of its two long prongs on the side and longer handle, it’s larger than other strainers we tested.
Price at time of publish: $16.
- Diameter: 5 inches
- Handle length: 2.5 inches
- Coil space: 1-millimeter
- Material: Stainless steel
- Unique features: 4 prongs for extra stability
- Koriko by Cocktail Kingdom Hawthorne Strainer: This is a popular strainer for a reason. It’s wide and perfectly covers the openings of both shaking tins and mixing glasses. Its spring coils are also tight enough that it filters well–just not better than our top pick.
- OXO Steel Cocktail Strainer: This pronged strainer fit well with both shaking tins and mixing glasses. However, it had the widest gap between coils and didn’t quite filter as thoroughly as other models.
- A Bar Above Hawthorne Strainer: This strainer performed well in every test, but it didn’t filter out as many of the fine particles as our top pick.
- Homestia Star Decor Bar Strainer: With its star-shaped perforations, this strainer was one of the more stylish we tested. Unfortunately, it had no finger tab, so was a bit awkward to use when trying to close the gate and tighten the coil.
- Piña Barware's The Hawthornette: The Hawthornette was a capable strainer and was similar in size and design to the OXO. It comes fitted with a more tightly coiled spring, so it got better results when straining the muddled cocktail. But, it didn’t strain as finely as our top picks.
- Bar Products Cocktail Strainer - No-Prong w/ Handle: Based on the original design of the Hawthorne strainer from the late 1800s, this model doesn’t have the now standard, flat, metal face. It didn’t fit neatly over the opening of a shaker tin like the others we tested. But it does work perfectly when used like a julep strainer with a mixing glass.
- Bull in China Hawthorne Strainer: This strainer did a decent job of straining cocktails, but its face was a bit narrow, and during one of the tests it actually fell into the large shaking tin.
What’s the difference between a Hawthorne strainer, a julep strainer, and a fine mesh strainer?
The three main types of strainers all have different applications when mixing cocktails. Hawthorne strainers are designed to fit over the opening of shaking tins and can also be used with mixing glasses. They also are built with coils of spring to help filter out fine particles, like bits of herbs. Julep strainers are used to strain stirred cocktails like a Manhattan or Martini. They basically separate the ice from the finished cocktail. Fine mesh strainers are used in conjunction with Hawthorne strainers to filter out any ultra-fine particles that may have snuck past the initial strain.
Do you really need to strain your cocktails?
Straining cocktails is necessary in order to serve a well-balanced cocktail. When preparing a shaken or stirred cocktail, mixing the ingredients with ice not only chills the drink, but some of the ice melts into the cocktail and dilutes the drink. This lowers the overall ABV of the drink and smooths out some of the harsher flavors in the alcohol, creating a more balanced flavor profile. If the cocktail isn’t strained and is just poured into a glass along with the ice, it risks becoming overdiluted and watered down. It’s also important to strain a cocktail that’s muddled with fruit or herbs so that the finished cocktail is clean in appearance and doesn’t have bits of mint or strawberry floating in it.
Why is it called a Hawthorne strainer?
According to cocktail historian David Wondrich in his book “Imbibe!”, the Hawthorne strainer was named after the Hawthorne Cafe in Boston, MA. While the strainer’s design was created by inventor William Wright, the patent was held by Denny Sullivan, who owned the cafe that was the strainer’s namesake.