The Best Julep Strainers of 2022

The Best Julep Strainers of 2022

julep strainers on marble countertop
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand / Grace Kelly

I’ve been hosting and bartending very fancy parties for just about 20 years. From my tender beginnings at my family’s beer and shot bar, to mainstage events for big brands and celebrities, there’s one tool I will always carry when classic stirred cocktails are on the menu: a great julep strainer. Julep strainers were traditionally used to strain stirred cocktails (or any recipe without citrus or fruit juice) from a mixing glass. When straining shaken drinks from a bar tin, or the metal half of a Boston shaker, it’s best to use a Hawthorne strainer to catch the majority of any muddled ingredients, fruit pulp, or ice shards from entering the drink. Most bars primarily use Hawthorne strainers for convenience, as they fit a wider range of mixing vessels. 

However, you can generally spot a cocktail connoisseur (and often, an informed cocktail program) when a bartender uses a julep strainer to strain spirit-only drinks like martinis and Manhattans. In addition to their functionality, julep strainers add an air of elegance when straining a drink, which is part of the ritual and theater that can elevate a good cocktail experience to a great one. 

Bartender Michael Silva, owner of BĀS Cocktails and the bar director at The Dean Bar in Providence, Rhode Island, says julep strainers actually make for a smoother strain. “Simply put, the spirits flow smoother from a julep strainer,” he says. Renowned bartender Ivy Mix, author of Spirits of Latin America and owner of Fiasco! and Leyenda, both in New York, adds, “I use julep strainers for stirred drinks only. I don’t love a Hawthorne-strained stirred drink.” Some posit that a Hawthorne strainer disturbs a stirred drink, adding unwanted air and bubbles, and claim that a julep strainer makes for a smoother, more cohesive stirred drink. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, but in the end, a julep strainer is a lovely piece of cocktail history that is as functional as it is pretty. 

So, we tested a lineup of eight highly-rated, bartender-recommended julep strainers to see which models function best for flow control, cocktail clarity, durability, and ease of use. All were made of stainless steel, two were plated with fine metals, two were scallop-shaped, and three had markedly bent handles.

The Winners, at a Glance 

The Best Julep Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Premium Julep Strainer

This julep strainer was the sleekest and most efficient model we tested in terms of flow control and a streamlined profile. The matte finish on the 1930s silhouette holds up to wear and tear, and the handle has a nice curve for a comfortable hold. The slight angle and depth of the strainer bowl accommodates many styles of mixing glasses with ease, allowing liquid to pass through the holes while retaining the ice and any muddled ingredients. Handsome? We think so.

The Best Scalloped Julep Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Wilkinson Scalloped Julep Strainer

The Wilkinson won as our favorite scalloped strainer option. Small but mighty, its size and ridged body were surprisingly easy to handle, and it was the only model made from one continuous (seamless) piece of metal. This silver-plated julep strainer must be hand washed and dried, but it’s worth the extra work to wield such a shiny and ornate tool. Fewer and smaller holes in the strainer bowl, paired with the refined scalloped edge, increased liquid flow speed, straining drinks quickly without shards of ice falling into the cocktail. If you’re looking for gilded splendor, this is your julep strainer. Afraid of a little tarnish? No worries, there’s silver polish for that. Bonus: the stainer comes with a felt storage pouch for added protection between uses. 

The Best Budget-Friendly Julep Strainer: Winco Stainless Steel Julep Strainer

It may not be the fanciest or the shiniest julep strainer that we tested, but the Winco was still durable and efficient. It’s slightly rougher around the edges than the other models, but was still quite reliable during the pour. This underdog featured the second largest strainer holes for accelerated pour speed, and it was easy to wash.

The Tests 

a variety of julep strainers with two cocktails on a marble countertop
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand
  • The Shaken Cocktail Test: We shook eight rounds of Sidecars and strained each round through the julep strainers we tested. To judge the strainers, we timed each pour and noted how much ice, lemon pulp, and seeds made it into the finished drink. 
  • The Stirred Cocktail Test: We strained eight batches of Manhattans through the eight julep strainers to see which were the fastest and which strained out the most ice shards. 
  • The Citrus Test: We put each of our winning brands to the test of straining a batch of 10 margaritas to see if the drink’s acidity would dull the finish or overall appearance of the stainer, and also to see how the strainers held up after multiple uses. 
  • Durability Test: Do some julep models dent or scratch more easily than others? To find out, we dropped them from waist height onto a hard surface 10 times over to see how well they stood up to a bit of harsh use. 
  • Usability Tests: Throughout testing, we evaluated how easy each strainer was to use. We counted and measured the diameter of the strainer holes to learn how either of these effected flow control. We recorded which strainers fit best in the mixing glass and noted any gaps through which solids or ice could escape. Throughout testing, we recorded which strainers were comfortable to hold, easy to grip, and remained stable and centered when placed inside an iced mixing glass. 
  • Cleanup Tests: Throughout testing, we noted how easy each strainer was to clean, washing it by hand after every test. 

A Brief History of the Julep Strainer

a julep strainer in a mixing glass with ice. behind it are two strained manhattans in coupe glasses.
The history of julep strainers originates with the julep cocktail.Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

A julep strainer was originally meant to hold back the ice and decorative bits from each sip of a julep cocktail, protecting both the sensitive teeth and the (potentially) precious mustache of the sipper. (Why not use a straw? Some did!) Though julep cocktails had their pinnings in the 14th century, the ones we’re concerned with date back to the 18th century. My colleague, writer and cocktail historian, Al Culliton, told me in an email, “Like all bar tools, the julep strainer reflects the methods used to make drinks at different points in cocktail history. It was made necessary by the evolution of cocktails during the nineteenth century. When ice became increasingly common in drinks in the decades before the Civil War [the 1830s-1850s] and before the shaker came to the fore, bartenders often rolled drinks between two vessels to chill, dilute, and incorporate the ingredients.” Once ice was mixed into drinks, it was just as important to be able to strain it out for proper dilution. Early forms of julep strainers were similar to tea strainers and “caster spoons,” a spoon that went alongside a sugar bowl used for sprinkling sugar, effectively a miniature handled sifter or sieve. According to cocktail whiz and drink historian David Wondrich, “By the 1860s, special bar versions [of julep strainers] were being made, with handles bent just so to fit them into the glass. This came to be called a ‘Julep strainer,’ not because you strain a Julep, but because for a time in the 1860s and 1870s some bars would put them in the drink itself and the customer would drink through them…Eventually, the old, scalloped models were replaced by one with a larger, oval bowl, which fit the glass better but didn’t look nearly as nice.” By 1900, the iced julep cocktail was a standard in most drinking establishments, and it was the advent of ice that transformed the deeply refreshing drink into one of the most famous recipes of its day. 

What is a Julep Strainer, and When Should You Use One?  

A julep strainer is a perforated metal disc with a functional handle and curved edges (similar to a wide-slotted soup spoon) that fits into a mixing glass to strain the ice and any other organic matter out of a cocktail. When stirring and straining a spirit-only cocktail, the main goal is to yield an icy cold solution with a silky, smooth texture. Building that velvety texture begins with stirring the spirits over ice in a mixing glass and then carefully (but confidently!) straining the chilled drink into your glass. The small holes of a julep strainer do a great job of straining the liquid into the glass without adding additional aeration to the drink. When using a Hawthorne strainer, part of the function of the coil (or the mesh on newer models) is to strain out as much of the ice, fruit pulp, or other flora while encouraging that filtered, frothy texture that results from shaking a cocktail over ice. Millions of air bubbles jostle into the solution during the shake to produce that icy and voluptuous dilution that brings the cocktail to life. A Hawthorne strainer does a fine job straining a stirred drink, but it’s a bit clunky. There’s always the double-straining method for eliminating ice chips and small pieces of herbs and fruit from the mix—but that’s overkill when straining a spirit-only drink. What’s more is the simple refinement and grace of a clean, dexterous pour from a julep strainer. True satisfaction and a nod to cocktail history, all in one. 

Which Side of the Julep Strainer Faces Up When Straining? 

The short answer is that it’s entirely your preference. I prefer the ‘bowl’ of the strainer to cup the ice and find that it’s usually a better fit in the mixing glass. Models like the bent julep strainer and those with a deeply notched handle strain more efficiently when the strainer bowl sits on top of the ice versus cupping it. I encourage you to try both ways and adopt whichever orientation is comfortable for you. 

How to Use a Straight-Handled Julep Strainer  

a straight handled julep strainer in a glass Boston shaker bottom with a cocktail in a coupe glass to the side.
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

Using a julep strainer takes practice. Use your dominant hand to take hold of the julep strainer handle between your index finger and middle finger. Place the strainer inside the iced mixing glass so that the bowl of the strainer cups the ice and slide your fingers down the handle so that your index finger is holding the base of the strainer in place. Use your thumb to grip the front of the glass (with your index finger still in place) and anchor the rest of your fingers below the handle on the back of the glass. Once you have a steady grip, lift and angle the mixing glass over your cocktail glass and pour until you fill your glass. 

How to Use a Bent-Handled Julep Strainer

When using a bent-handled julep strainer, orient the bowl of the strainer so that it sits over the ice in the mixing glass (so that it’s concave, opposite of the placement above). Use your index finger and thumb to place the strainer into the mixing glass and leverage your index finger over the handle to angle the strainer in place while your thumb grips the front of the mixing glass and the rest of your fingers secure the back of the mixing glass. Then, lift and angle the mixing glass to pour the spirits into your cocktail glass—you may find you won’t need to tilt your mixing glass as high to empty the liquid into your cocktail glass. 

What We Learned 

Hole Size and Number Was Important

three strainers on a countertop with varying hole sizes.
There was quite the difference when it came to hole size and quantity amongst the strainers we tested.Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

Wide holes on a strainer provide a faster pouring speed and are easy to clean, but sometimes let through small ice shards and particles into the finished cocktail. Small strainer holes, like on the Piña Barware’s The Bender Julep Strainer and the Barconic Julep Strainer With Curved Handle, are the most effective for straining ice out of a cocktail, but slow down the pour because it takes longer to filter out the sediment and ice.

The number of holes on a strainer was also important. Each strainer we tested ranged from a count of 29 to 106 strainer holes. The model with the fewest, large holes, the Barfly Scalloped Julep Strainer (only 29 holes!), was much faster than models like the Cocktail Kingdom Premium Julep Strainer and the A Bar Above Julep Strainer, both of which had many medium-sized holes (106 each). Scalloped julep strainers tend to be faster in general, however, because even when they have fewer, smaller holes—like the Cocktail Kingdom Wilkinson Julep Strainer— the scalloped edge lets liquid flow faster than the continuous curved edge models. 

Handle Design Was About Leverage and Comfort

Handle length and shape affects how you hold the stainer against the mixing glass. And flow control is related to how well the strainer bowl fits inside the mixing glass, which also relies on the angle and length of the strainer handle. Silva says, “I prefer a standard handled julep strainer style because my hands are larger than most so holding a tiny, intricate handle doesn’t help me much.” Depending on the size of your hands, you may prefer a larger handle, like on the Barfly Scalloped Julep Strainer, but there are also style points in maneuvering a small, ornate strainer like the Cocktail Kingdom Wilkinson strainer. It should be noted that bent-handle julep strainers do a great job of filtering out particles, but have a slower pour than the straight-handle versions.

Fine Metal Finishes Were Attractive, but Wear Down Quickly

the viski copper plated strainer in a mixing glass on a marble countertop.
While pretty, plated julep strainers (like this copper-plated one from Viski) were not as durable as stainless steel models.Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

Copper-plated julep strainers are beautiful, but the finish wears down quickly, even with just hand-washing. Silver-plated stainers are more reliable than copper, but require extra care during washing, drying and storage. As Mix says, “I find the finishes [on cocktail strainers] to be troublesome because they tend to chip off. They’re fine if you’re just using them for home use, but if you’re washing them in the bar dishwasher multiple times a night, it’s hard to stand up to that industrial use.” In conclusion: fine metal plating on bar tools is appealing, but only if you’re invested in handwashing and taking good care of your tools.  

Bent-Handled Strainers Were Thorough, but Slow 

a bent handles strainer in a mixing glass on a marble countertop.
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

The bent-handled strainers did very well in testing, save for flow control and hand feel; because bent strainers virtually lock into place in the mixing glass, they have a slower pour. That said, the bent handle julep strainer is also the most effective model if you’re concerned about keeping ice out of your drink, since the ice shards pour out towards the back of the glass because of their weight.

Bigger Wasn’t Better 

Wider julep strainer models, like the Viski and The Bar Above, didn’t fit inside small and medium-sized mixing glasses, which made them awkward to maneuver. 

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Good Julep Strainer 

A seriously good julep strainer
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand / Grace Kelly

When looking for a julep strainer, consider the number of holes and the shape of the strainer that will fit best into your mixing glass. Scalloped strainers and models with large holes strain fastest, but let ice fall into the glass. Before buying a julep strainer, weigh your practical needs alongside your aesthetic taste. If you will be putting your strainer in the dishwasher, you’ll want a stainless steel model (overall, we found most the versatile and durable versions are made from stainless steel). If you have a mixing glass with a pour spout, the strainer bowl will need to fit easily inside the glass without too much maneuvering. Folks with large hands may consider a larger model. 

The Best Julep Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Premium Julep Strainer

What we liked: This julep strainer was the sleekest and easiest to handle. The angle and shape of the strainer bowl accommodates many styles of mixing glasses, allowing liquid to flow through the holes while straining the ice and any muddled ingredients. The matte finish is durable and the ergonomic handle is comfortable to hold. 

What we didn’t like: This strainer doesn’t seal seamlessly into the mixing glass because of its oval-shaped strainer bowl. If you prefer a perfect seal, you might want to go with a bent handle option.

Price at time of publish: $15.

Key Specs

  • Number of holes: 106
  • Hole diameter: 1/8 inch
  • Materials: Stainless steel 
  • Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe 
  • Handle style: Straight handle, slight curve 
cocktail kingdom strainer on wooden surface
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

The Best Scalloped Julep Strainer: Cocktail Kingdom Wilkinson Scalloped Julep Strainer

What we liked: The Wilkinson is our favorite fancy scalloped strainer option because it’s small and it maneuvers gracefully. The ridged body is easy to handle, and it’s the only model made from one seamless piece of metal, making it a hardy but nimble design. Fewer and smaller holes in the strainer bowl, paired with the scalloped edge, increased liquid flow speed, straining drinks quickly without pulp or ice falling into the cocktail. Bonus: the stainer comes with a felt storage pouch to protect from scratches and tarnish between uses. 

What we didn’t like: Some bartenders reported that the strainer was too small to hold, and since it’s silver plated, it must be hand washed (and probably polished). If you’re not paying close attention during the pour, an ice cube or two can slip by the strainer into the glass. 

Price at time of publish: $27.

Key Specs

  • Number of holes: 43
  • Hole diameter: 1/16 inch
  • Materials: Nickel Silver 
  • Care instructions: Hand wash-only, polish as needed
  • Handle style: Curved handle
the wilkinson strainer on a wooden surface
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

The Best Budget-Friendly Julep Strainer: Winco Stainless Steel Julep Strainer

What we liked: This is a great, no-frills julep strainer that might not be flashy, but it gets the job done. It was quite reliable when straining, and since it featured the second largest sized holes, it strained quickly and efficiently. Bonus: it’s dishwasher-safe.

What we didn’t like: This strainer didn’t feel as sturdy and durable as our two other favorites. It was also a little rough around the edges.

Key Specs

  • Number of holes: 75
  • Hole diameter: 1/8 inch
  • Materials: Stainless steel
  • Care instructions: Dishwasher-safe
  • Handle style: Straight handle
winco strainer on wooden surface
Serious Eats / Willa Van Nostrand

The Competition

  • Viski Summit Copper Julep Strainer: This strainer is the widest model we tested, and though it fits well into a standard bar glass, it was slightly too wide for a few of our mixing glasses. When placed into a yarai mixing glass, the strainer bowl needed to be angled into the glass through the pour spout—not ideal for performance. This copper-plated strainer has a beautiful glow when new, but it doesn’t hold up over tiem. If your heart is set on a copper strainer, be prepared for the dings and dullness that may come with regular use. 
  • A Bar Above Julep Strainer: Almost as wide as the Viski strainer above, this model also has trouble fitting inside small to medium-sized mixing glasses. The polished stainless steel finish is attractive but didn’t hold up as well as a stainless matte finish in our durability tests. 
  • Barconic Julep Strainer With Curved Handle – Stainless Steel: The Barconic Julep strainer isn’t the fastest strainer on the market, but it does a solid job of straining the ice and particles out of a cocktail. The number of holes paired with its particular ovular shape makes for a longer pour with pulp, but gains speed when straining spirit-only drinks. This model rated poorly for its relatively sharp edge. Though the strainer isn’t dangerously sharp, it’s enough to cause ill ease when working in a fast-paced environment. We also noted that small particles easily gunked up the flow of liquid. 
  • Piña Barware’s The Bender Julep Strainer: The Piña julep strainer is virtually the same strainer as the Barconic Julep strainer, but with the addition of etched brand logos and a triangular hole in the handle for storage on a hook. It performs exactly like the Barconic, except it costs $10 more. If you like the etched pineapple stamp, then by all means go for it, but we’d ourselves the 10 bucks and go with the Barconic if you’re looking for an affordable bent handle strainer. 
  • Barfly Scalloped Julep Strainer, Stainless Steel: This is a sturdy scalloped model with a practical notched handle that rests nicely against the rim of a mixing glass. It has the longest handle among the models we tested, providing extra stability and leverage during the pour. The only downside was that, though effective at straining out ice, the wider scalloped edge did let a few ice shards slip into the finished cocktail.

FAQs

How should you wash your julep strainer? 

If the julep strainer is stainless steel, you can hand wash it or put it in the dishwasher. All silver and copper-plated models should be hand washed-only. Tarnished silver can be polished using silver polish, and a mixture of salt and vinegar will polish the tarnish off of copper. 

Can you use a julep strainer for other things besides cocktails? 

While judging a cocktail competition a few years back, I noticed a contestant scooping ice with an ice scoop in one hand and using a julep strainer to guide the ice into the glass with their other hand. I thought this was marvelous. Most bartenders will cup a bare hand over the top of a glass while scooping ice into it. I’m not sure if this kind of ice service will catch on, but I thoroughly enjoyed the gesture. 

Are there any culinary uses for a julep strainer? 

We’ve heard reports of chefs using a julep strainer to strain poached eggs out of boiling water, so we had to try it…yep, it works!