Taking the strain
Like every aspect of making a drink, you have a choice that will show your level of skill and decision-making when you strain your cocktail. Questions you may need to ask yourself are: is it shaken or stirred? Served over ice or neat? What is your ice like? Does the drink need clarity? Just like jiggering, every bar team ought to have a consistent policy regarding straining.
Let's look at the tools:
This is one of the earliest pieces of bar equipment, and is named because of its original use in the 1700s before the invention of straws, to keep the ice away from your mouth when drinking a Julep.
The Julep strainer is the obvious choice for straining a stirred drink - it is fast and looks smart. Stirred drinks don't usually require any finer straining, though one exception is a Dirty Martini, which may contain olive sediment and must be fine-strained as well. The Julep strainer is used with a mixing glass only and never with a boston tin.
Patented in 1892 and named after the Hawthorne Gentleman's Café and Restaurant in Boston, the original Hawthorne strainer was essentially an improvement to the Julep strainer, being a disc that fit completely inside the mixing vessel, coil-side up. Modern Hawthorne strainers are more developed and easier to use; they sit level with the top of the vessel and are held in place with prongs located on the side of the disc. More commonly seen now with prongs, the strainer is held coil-side-down and may be manipulated to slow the flow of the cocktail and limit the size of any ice particles coming through. The Hawthorne is always used to strain from a mixing tin, and sometimes with a mixing glass.
The Double Strainer, or Tea Strainer
This is a more recent innovation in bartending techniques and is used to remove all slivers of ice and citrus pulp from shaken cocktails. It is more useful when your Hawthorne strainer lacks a tight coil.
When do we fine strain?
We fine strain any time we want our drink to be crystal-clear, or silky-smooth. The quality of our ice will affect the amount of small ice particles that can escape the Hawthorne. Stirred-drinks aside, we need to fine strain drinks like the Cosmopolitan to give a more sophisticated look and texture, but there are other shaken drinks that are exceptions.
When don't we fine-strain?
"Frothy" cocktails, those containing egg white, espresso, or pineapple juice, require the essential additional texture. Depending on your ice, your Hawthorne, and the quality of your espresso, you need to decide whether fine-straining gives a better experience or not. If your texture is dissipating too quickly, you may need to add more of the frothing agent, dry-shake longer, or only single-strain the cocktail, pushing as much foam through as possible. Just beware that fine-straining will reduce some of the aeration that you introduced during the shake.
Is there a middle ground for Daiquiris, Margaritas, Blood and Sands…?
The key issue with these and similar cocktails is the use of fresh juice. If you are not able to use fresh juice, I recommend fine-straining. If you are using fresh citrus that still contains some texturally interesting and tasty fresh pulp, I suggest the "1.5 Strain" technique. Here we use the Hawthorne and 'fine' strain through the Julep strainer. What difference does this make? It allows us to filter any intrusive slivers of ice, but allows the cocktail to pass into the glass with all aeration and texture intact. Your cocktail will include some juice pulp and really emphasise the freshness of your ingredients, whilst giving you another tool to create a different experience for your guests.