The strainer is an integral part of most cocktails, and while it may seem simple enough, its history is anything but. In fact, despite the inherent simplicity of a strainer – its job, after all, is to simply strain any food parts and ice chips from the drink – there are two different types of strainer, each with a unique history: the Julep Strainer, and the Hawthorne Strainer. And while both kinds of cocktail strainers are ultimately derived from tea strainers – which have been in existence for a very long time – cocktail strainers are a relatively modern creation.
The Julep Strainer
The Julep Strainer, which resembles a large, slotted spoon, was the first cocktail strainer to come around. It first appeared in the mid-19th century, though it didn’t immediately gain popularity. The Julep Strainer likely evolved from perforated spoons that were used to remove fat from soup, or to sprinkle sugar on desserts.
It wasn’t until the very late 1800’s that the Julep Strainer started to become common, though it was initially known as an ice spoon. It didn’t officially take on the ‘strainer’ nomenclature until the turn of the 20th century.
Today, the Julep Strainer is less common than its younger sibling and, ironically, not used for mint juleps (at least not if the drink is made correctly).
The Hawthorne Strainer
The Hawthorne Strainer was being invented and patented right as the julep strainer was gaining popularity. Ironically, the Hawthorne Strainer was first patented as . . . you guessed it . . . the ‘Julep Strainer’. The name of the Hawthorne Strainer is, in fact, one of the more interesting facets of its history.
If you had to venture a guess, you’d probably think that the Hawthorne strainer was named after someone named Hawthorne; after all, the original strainers had the name “Hawthorne” emblazoned on them in perforations. In actuality, the strainer earned its name because of its use at a bar called ‘The Hawthorne.’ And yet, despite that, the Hawthorne Strainer was known as merely the ‘Cocktail Strainer’ until as recently as the late 20th century, when the present name reappeared right as cocktails were regaining hip status.
Unlike many bar contraptions, such as the cocktail shaker and the wine key, the Hawthorne Shaker with its handy spring contraption, and the Julep Strainer with its perfect perforation have not changed or evolved very much since their inception.
Sometimes it’s best to leave good enough alone.