A muddler is an essential bar tool that is designed to smash and mix (muddle) drink ingredients. It is used to make some of the most popular cocktails, including the caipirinha, mojito, and old-fashioned.
Essentially, a muddler is a bartender's pestle and it's very easy to learn this basic bartending technique. Muddling is one of the best ways to incorporate fresh fruits and herbs into your drinks. Once you learn just how useful a muddler is, you will wonder why you didn't have one before.
What Is a Muddler?
Muddlers come in a variety of materials and most are about the same size and basic design. They are typically six to eight inches long and about one inch in diameter. It's the perfect size to reach the bottom of the average mixing glass or cocktail shaker.
In general, you will find muddlers made out of three different materials: wood, plastic, or stainless steel.
Wood muddlers are the most popular and have been used in the bar since some of the first drinks were mixed. They come in two basic shapes: one looks like a miniature baseball bat with a flat bottom and the other is rather straight, similar in design to a windchime.
These are favorites for bartenders because they are durable and get the job done quickly. As a bonus, wood muddlers are useful for other things like cracking ice cubes into smaller pieces.
The one drawback to wood is that you need to take care of it because it is an organic material.
- Never put a wood muddler in the dishwasher or leave it in standing water.
- Clean your muddler in water immediately after use, especially when working with berries and other fruits that can stain the wood. Over time, some staining will likely occur, but that's a just a sign that you get good use out of it.
- Wipe your muddler with a dry cloth to help it dry faster. Let it air dry completely before storing.
Plastic and Steel Muddlers
In recent years, there has been a revolution in muddler design. Many are now made out of plastic, stainless steel, or a combination of synthetic materials.
- The majority of these muddlers follow the bat design of the wood muddlers because the thinner, rounded end is easy to grasp.
- It is also common to find a muddler with teeth on the bottom. These are used to mash ingredients more efficiently and are great for quickly extracting juice from berries, citrus fruits, and other produce.
The main advantage of plastic and steel muddlers is sanitation. Compared to wooden muddlers, the potential for bacteria and mold to grow or for the muddler to become damaged is much lower.
Depending on the material, these muddlers are generally dishwasher safe. There is also virtually no staining from the darker fruits and herbs and they rarely absorb and trap strong flavors or aromas. Essentially, they are very easy to care for.
Choosing a Muddler
Deciding which type of muddler to add to your bar depends on your style of mixing drinks and personal preference. Choosing a muddler is just like selecting a cocktail shaker: there are many options and one is sure to suit you best.
Many bartenders and cocktail enthusiasts like to have both types of muddlers around.
- The wood muddlers are great for everyday tasks like the gentle muddling of delicate herbs and citrus fruits as well as tough jobs like cracking ice.
- Plastic muddlers are great for juicing fruits, while stainless steel is less likely to break and can also crush hard ingredients like nuts and spices. Either of these can handle messier muddling jobs that may affect a wooden muddler over the long-term.
If you're looking for the most versatile muddler that will handle nearly every task and is easy to clean, go with stainless steel. Look for a design with teeth and you'll be able to tackle any muddled cocktail recipe for years to come.
How to Muddle
In most cases, the point of muddling is not to smash the ingredients into a messy pulp. This is where many new bartenders go wrong. Instead, you want to gently caress the essence out of it. In the case of herbs, you are releasing the essential oils; for fruit, the goal is extracting the juice.
Depending on the recipe, you may be simultaneously mixing a sweetener or another liquid mixer with the fresh ingredients. This forms the flavor foundation for the drink.
- Place your ingredients in the bottom of a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Some cocktails are muddled directly in the serving glass.
- Gently press down and give a half-turn of the muddler.
- Release and continue this motion until the ingredients are sufficiently muddled. This will generally take about four to six turns.
- Add the drink's other ingredients (including ice, if needed) and follow the recipe's recommendation of shaking or stirring to finish mixing the drink.
More Muddling Tips
Muddling is a simple technique, though a couple more tips will help you out. Keep these in mind and you will avoid a mess while also creating better cocktails.
- Don't muddle in a shaker that has a plastic bottom because they are prone to cracking, even under the lightest of pressure. If plastic is your only option, muddle in a glass then transfer the ingredients to the shaker to finish mixing.
- Muddle before adding ice or you are simply crushing ice and potentially over diluting the drink. Also, the ingredients you intend to muddle will not be properly muddled. This is sometimes called the "Portland muddle."