The muddler is bar tool bartenders use to smash and mix up ingredients in cocktail recipes. This process is called 'muddling'. The flavours and aromas of herbs and fruits are extracted through this method and integrated with the other ingredients of the drink.
For such a simple tool there are a lot of variations of the muddler, and picking the right one depends on a variety of factors. But never fear! Everything you need to know is below...
Choosing a cocktail muddler
Cocktail muddlers are available in a huge variety of styles, yet a few small variations make big differences. So, what should you look for in this essential tool?
The head is the business end of a muddler and there are two main styles of head available, flat and toothed. Flat heads muddle slower, with more precision and allow less chance for over-muddling, especially with herbs. A toothed, spiked, or textured head on a muddler allows for effective crushing and juice extraction from fruit, but will quickly over-muddle herbs if not used carefully.
Undoubtedly the second most important feature of a muddler, behind the head style.
More often than not, you’re muddling in Old Fashioned or Collins glasses. However, there will be a time when you need to muddle in a Boston shaker or shaker pint glass. For this, you’re going to want a longer muddler to stop you painfully banging your knuckles on the edges of said vessel.
Wooden muddlers, plastic muddlers and metal muddlers are your options. Muddlers galore!
If you're working in a high-volume bar (or even at home), you’re going to want to purchase a plastic or metal muddler. These are a little easier to clean than the traditional wooden muddler.
For bars looking for that old, authentic feel, the wooden muddler completes the bill. However, they do require hand-washing and quick drying to ensure longevity.
Cocktail muddlers are now available in a myriad of styles.
Style is really down to personal preference, however grip is an important stylistic element to consider when buying a muddler. If you're buying for a bar, a thicker muddler rather than a fancy, skinny one allows for more control and easier usage. At home, where a muddler will get less used, the choice is up to you.
There are also muddling spoons available, which are bar spoons with a flat muddling head on the opposite end to the spoon. These are excellent multi-functional tools yet they’re not as easy to use as muddlers themselves.
How to use a cocktail muddler
Muddling means crushing fruit, bruising herbs and smashing up sugar. This helps integrate fresh flavours into the drink. The flavours and freshness provided by muddling these ingredients is unmatched, even when using juices, essences or syrups.
The most important element to the art of muddling and using a muddler is not to over-muddle! This means, not muddling too much which releases bitter, astringent and unwanted flavours from the ingredients.
How to muddle herbs
Place herbs at the bottom of the glass with a dash of liquid (usually simple syrup or soda water) and gently press the muddler into the herbs whilst twisting your hand up to half a turn. Remember, you want to bruise herbs, not shred them; shredding them will bring out the unwanted flavours.
The bruising will be visible on leafy herbs and herbal aromas which always become more pronounced after muddling. With a toothed muddler one or two muddles will do the job, whilst flat muddlers may take up to four or five turns to produce the desired results.
How to muddle fruits
Add the fruit to the glass (fruit liquid is not necessary but often added) - and press the muddler forcefully into the fruit whilst twisting your hand up to a half turn.
When muddling fruit, especially berries, the aim is to crush the fruit, not necessarily to pulverise it, and extract the juices. It's hard to over-muddle fruit but it can be done!
When muddling citrus fruits be careful not to destroy the rind and pith. Whilst these do have a lot of flavour which you’ll want to extract, over-muddling these parts of citrus fruits can result in bitter and sometimes soapy flavours, bllerrrghhh!
How to muddle sugar
Place the sugar cube at the base of the glass and add some liquid for the sugar to dissolve into. More often than not this is bitters, soda water or both. Take the muddler and give the sugar cube a hard stab to break it apart. This may take more than one shot. Getting the power ratio right takes practice!
Once the cube is broken into smaller pieces, proceed to pound lightly until they’re of stir-able and dissolve-able size.
Then simply use the muddler to stir and dissolve the sugar particles into the liquid. If using granulated sugar skip straight to this last step.
Sugar, as you’ve probably worked out, can’t be over-muddled...
History of the muddler tool
The cocktail muddler started out as a 'toddy stick', a multi-purpose tool found behind the bar in the eighteenth century. This makes the muddler the true OG of bar tools, existing long before any of the other bartending basics.
Its survival is down to its ability to adapt to a changing environment. With the arrival of commercial ice in the early 1800s (and the changes it brought to cocktail culture), the toddy stick was no longer an essential tool. However, the bartender still needed a tool to help him incorporate fresh fruit and herbs into new, chilled concoctions.
The toddy stick showed its versatility and since then has evolved, ever so slightly, into the modern muddler tool we use today. Now, cocktail muddlers come in many different designs and materials. If you want to keep things a bit more retro, go for the wood muddlers!
Cocktails that need a muddler
Classic and common cocktails that call for a cocktail muddler are listed below along with their muddling ingredients...