Muddling is an incredibly useful and delicate skill to learn as a bartender. Some of the most popular cocktails customers ask for require this bar skill. You need to know your ingredients and own strength to be able to do this correctly.
Learn all about muddling below. What, why, how and when…
Why muddle cocktails?
The idea behind muddling drinks is to incorporate the flavours of fresh ingredients. This bar skill is used to replace syrups, bitters and infused spirits, which bartenders may have no time to make.
Drinks ingredients like fresh fruit or fresh herbs are the most commonly muddled, which releases their intense flavours. The idea is to extract the true flavours of an ingredient, which you might taste when eating. Take any fruit juice like orange juice, for example. Orange juice tastes significantly different to a muddled orange, where the essential oils are crushed out.
Types of muddler
The muddler is very simple bar tool to use. Essentially, it’s a long, sturdy stick with two ends. One end of the muddler is a flat surface, whilst the opposite end is either spiked or grooved. This allows the bartender to perform two different types of muddling, which we’ll talk about later in this blog.
Beyond this, there’s not much more to it. Sometimes muddlers can come as metal/plastic sticks, but often it will be a wooden muddler.
How to muddle
The muddling technique is something very delicate, requiring careful thought and practice. There is a right way and a wrong way to muddle drinks. First, there are some things to keep in mind…
1. It’s not so necessary but using a separate glass to muddle in can help. Whether it be a mixing glass or general sturdy glass, make sure it won’t break from the muddling. Using a mixing glass can offer you the chance to perform other techniques or use other tools before serving, like a cocktail shaker, to complete the drink.
2. Using a wooden muddler is the best possible tool for muddling. There’s a clue in the name. Makeshift muddlers like a wooden spoon or rolling pin can be used but should never be preferred. Muddlers are specifically designed to perform this process well, so use them!
How to muddle sugar
Sugar is the safest ingredient to muddle. Sugar cannot be over-muddled. As long as it’s crushed down, it’s done! Sugar cubes need a bit of force to be crushed but there are some tricks of the trade. Adding a little bit of liquid before muddling sugar cubes helps, even if it’s just water. Once crushed down to granules, stir the mixture so some sugar dissolves, ensuring a smoothly muddled cocktail.
If granulated sugar is being used then there’s no need to crush it up before adding other ingredients. It can muddled alongside the other ingredients, like citrus fruits or herbs.
How to muddle fruit
For fruits, you’ll have to have a bit more knowledge behind the way of the muddler. For citrus fruits, like lemon or lime wedges, you’ll need to use a little force. Place the fruits into a glass and press the muddler down whilst slightly turning. This will extract the juices and essential oils. But you just want to crush the fruit not mash it up. Once you start mashing the rind, then the bitter qualities seep into the deliciously extracted juices. Not ideal!
For soft fruits, like berries, it’s hard to over-muddle. These fruits have no rinds or pith to spoil the flavour, so there’s no danger with thin-skinned fruits of ruining the drink.
How to muddle herbs
If you’re going to be muddling herbs, this will be your hardest challenge. Mint leaves are most commonly muddled, however other herbs can be too. These delicate herbs need some tender love and care when being muddled though, as over-muddling is a high risk here.
Place the mint leaves into a glass. Gently press the muddler onto the mint leaves, whilst giving it a little turn. Once you smell the mint herb extracts, that’s when you stop. These delicate herbs require a delicate touch. Using the flat end of the muddler is best to muddle mint for this. Using the jagged end of the muddler will tear apart the herb and completely miss the point of muddling.
Popular muddled cocktails
Cocktails which call for muddling are some of the oldest out there. The whole taste and experience of the cocktail relies on this bar skill, so they're great to practice with. Here are the bartender basics any bartender should know about: