After The Shaking and Stirring Comes The Straining

Straining cocktails may seem simple enough but it’s an art unto itself that bartenders have to master. It’s a must, too, for most cocktails, whether these have been shaken or stirred.

Reasons for Straining

Just like shaking and stirring, straining is a basic technique for bartenders. There are several reasons why it’s necessary for most cocktails including:

  • Ice shouldn’t be in the finished drink, as is the case for cocktails like martinis that are mixed with ice in the shaker but served “up”. Even with drinks that are served over ice, the old ice should be strained before the finished drink is poured over fresh ice, such as with a Jose Cuervo.
  • Ice cubes in drinks that have been shaken considerably breaks down during the vigorous shaking process; most of the ice cubes will break down in half, if not shards. While dilution is desired to make the drink more palatable, usually by reducing the alcohol content of the liquor, too much dilution isn’t.
  • Straining the broken-down ice cubes prevents serving watered-down cocktails. The fresh cubes on the serving glass, if any, will last much longer than the broken-down ice so the cocktail remains chilled while its flavor remains true, so to speak.
  • Chunky ingredients, such as torn herbs, fruit bits, and even whole spices, shouldn’t be in the finished drink, too. These ingredients are there for the flavor, not to add texture to the drink, and thus these aren’t needed anymore.

There are exceptions like the old-fashioned and mojito, which are typically served with a solid ingredient. But most drinkers don’t like getting mint in their teeth and so straining is usually requested.

When you’re building a bar at home, you should have a strainer or two on hand for these reasons.

Tools Used for Straining

Don’t use your kitchen strainer, however, as it isn’t designed for cocktail straining. Instead, you can use one of these tools in straining.

First, a three-piece cocktail shaker already has a built-in strainer so it’s the easiest to use. The built-in strainer is in one of the lids. A few tips to keep in mind when using this shaker:

  • Have a firm hold on the mixing tin.
  • Position your middle finger and forefinger on the strainer lid’s tip to secure it; otherwise, the strainer lid can will come off.
  • Tip the shaker upside down over the cocktail glass and let the drink slowly pour out. Be careful about pouring so that there are no spills.
  • Give the shaker a little shake, which will move around the ice inside it and free up the remaining liquid. Pour the remaining drink into the serving glass.

Second, a Boston cocktail shaker doesn’t have a built-in strainer so a separate strainer is required. There are two choices in this regard, namely, a Hawthorne strainer and a julep strainer. We have to say that the Hawthorne strainer is the better tool but it isn’t a bad idea either to have a julep strainer in the bar, just in case.

A Hawthorne strainer will snugly fit into any shaker tin and, thus, will hold back the ice cubes and solid ingredients in the cocktail. It typically has a flat top, two or four “thumbs” protruding from the surface, and a semi-circle of springs beneath.

It’s easy to use:

  • Place it inside the mixing tin with its coil facing downwards.
  • Hold its strainer part securely with your forefinger and firmly grasp the tin near the top.
  • Tip the tin and pour the drink over the serving glass.
  • Return the tin to its upright position – quickly, too – so as to prevent spills.

A julep strainer is a better choice in two instances: first, when straining from a Boston shaker’s mixing glass; and second, when stirring drinks. It’s a better fit over a Boston shaker and it allows the mixer to see the ingredients and their amounts being poured into the clear part of the Boston shaker.

  • Place the julep strainer inside the mixing glass; the bowl of the spoon should be facing.
  • Hold it on the joint between the bowl and handle with your forefinger. Be sure to hold the glass close to its rim.
  • Tip the mixing glass over the cocktail glass and be careful about spills; easy and slowly does it.

But in a pinch – when there are no separate shaker on hand – you can use a method used by professional bartenders – breaking the shaker. Crack the seal of the Boston shaker so that a small gap is created before slowly pouring the finished drink into its serving glass. Be careful not to let ice fall through the small gap and be prepared for small solids, such as herbs, slipping through the crack.

In drinks that require double straining, such as the French Quarter Smash and watermelon cucumber cooler, you have to use one of the above-mentioned straining techniques followed by a final straining through a fine mesh strainer.