Muddling is a bartending skill which allows us to extract juices, oils, and flavours from fresh ingredients; it is the ultimate way to add fresh produce directly into cocktails. It is, however, a skill which takes practice for, if it is not performed correctly, one can produce a subpar drink or, even worse, destroy the flavour profile of a drink completely. Here we’ll go through why we muddle, which muddler to choose and how to muddle.
As aforementioned muddling allows us to incorporate the flavours of fresh produce into drinks behind the bar. This can be done by making syrups, purees, bitters and even infusing spirits with fresh produce but there are two reasons why we may muddle instead. Either, we don’t have the time to make any of these products or these products are subpar. You make a mint simple syrup and use pre-squeezed lime juice to make producing mojitos faster behind your bar but nothing beats the oils, fragrances and flavours produced when muddling fresh limes and using fresh mint. In short we muddle to get flavours as close to those that you would get if you were eating the fruit or herb in question.
We discussed the different styles of muddler in this article on the muddler itself. But which is the best to use? The muddler to look for is a long sturdy piece that sticks a good way above your mixing glass so that you don’t bump your knuckles. Muddlers are available with either a spiked, grooved or flat surface on the business end of the stick. The one you’re going to want is one with a flat surface. This will give you a substantial amount of control when muddling herbs and fruit, whereas the other two head styles can shred these delicate items; destroying you drink.
How to Muddle
When using a muddler you do not want to over-muddle. This is what, so often, kills a muddled drink. Over-muddling tarnishes your drink by releasing bitter and astringent flavours from your ingredients and it can be done very easily with herbs but not so easily with fruit; although it is still possible! Let’s look at muddling with the three different items you’ll usually muddle behind the bar, for each requires a slightly different technique.
Muddling Sugar - The easiest of the bunch! Sugar cannot be over-muddled and to muddle sugar cubes requires more roughness than any other muddle-able items. Place the sugar cube in your glass and add a small amount of liquid; usually a few dashes of bitters - if called for by the recipe - with a small amount of water. Smash that sugar cube! This is the part that requires the excess force. Once the cube is reduced to granules stir the mixture so some of the sugar dissolves. If using granulated sugar, jump straight to the last step; although granulated sugar is often muddled with other items like citrus fruits.
Muddling Fruit - Place your cut fruit in the glass and simultaneously press and turn the muddler to extract the juices from the fruit. With soft fruits, like berries, not much force is necessary however with others, especially citrus, you’re going to want to use a little extra pressure to get the oil out of the tough skins of these ingredients. Your aim here is to crush the fruit, not to mash it. You want to extract the juices and oils so they can be mixed in with your other ingredients without tearing apart the skins. It is hard to over-muddle soft fruits, such as berries, but those with rinds, like citrus fruits, can be over-muddled and over-muddling these, and destroying the rind and pith, means that you’ll be releasing those unwanted bitter flavours mentioned earlier.
Muddling Herbs - Herbs are the most sensitive of ingredients to muddle as they can be spoiled the easiest. Put the herbs in the glass with a few splashes of liquid. Gently press the muddler into the herbs whilst giving the muddler a quarter turn. Do this a number of times until you can smell the oils rising from the glass; when you can smell them well you know they’re ready. When muddling herb you do not want to shred them, you want to bruise. Muddling herbs is where choosing a muddler with the right head is really crucial, a spiked or grooved head will destroy your herbs quickly, giving you little control over what happens, whilst a flat head allows you to control how much you are working your delicate ingredients.
Popular Muddled Drinks
Cocktails which call for muddling are some of the oldest out there, whilst the technique of muddling is being used on craft cocktails lists worldwide to create a huge array of concoctions. The one’s you’re going to want to know are as follows:
- Old Fashioned
- Mint Julep
- Whiskey Smash