A muddler is an essential bar tool designed to smash and mix (called muddling) drink ingredients. Essentially, a bartender's pestle, using a muddler is one of the best ways to infuse the flavor of fresh fruits and herbs into your drinks. It's easy to learn how to muddle, and this basic technique will let you mix several popular cocktails, including the caipirinha, mojito, and old-fashioned.
What Is a Muddler?
Muddlers are long, thick sticks, which is why muddled cocktails are also called stick drinks. They come in a variety of materials, though most are about the same size and basic design.
Similar in shape to a long pestle or miniature bat, the top of a muddler is frequently rounded so you can hold it in your palm. It tapers to a broader flat bottom that sometimes has teeth. Muddlers 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 glass or cocktail shaker.
Types of Muddlers
In general, you will find muddlers made out of three different materials: wood, plastic, and stainless steel.
Wood muddlers are the classic choice and most popular material. They come in two basic shapes: one looks like a miniature baseball bat with a flat bottom, and the other is straight, similar in design to a windchime.
These are often preferred by bartenders because they get the job done quickly and are very durable, so they last for years. As a bonus, wood muddlers are helpful for other things like cracking ice cubes into smaller pieces.
The drawback is that wood is organic, so these muddlers require a little extra care:
- Never put a wood muddler in the dishwasher or leave it in standing water.
- Clean your muddler in water immediately after use, especially when muddling berries and other fruits that can stain the wood. Some staining will likely occur over time, but that's just a sign that you put it to good use.
- Wipe your muddler with a dry cloth and let it air dry completely before storing.
Plastic and Steel Muddlers
Many modern muddlers are 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, which will mash ingredients more efficiently and quickly extract juice from berries, citrus fruits, and other produce.
Sanitation is the main advantage of plastic and steel muddlers. Compared to wooden muddlers, there is less potential for bacteria and mold to grow or for the muddler to become damaged.
Depending on the material, these muddlers are easier to care for and generally dishwasher safe. There is also virtually no staining from darker fruits and herbs, and they rarely absorb and trap strong flavors or aromas.
Choosing a Muddler
Deciding which type of muddler to buy 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 and 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. Instead, you want to caress the essence out of it gently. In the case of herbs, you are releasing the essential oils; for fruit, the goal is to extract the juice. Many recipes add a sweetener or another liquid mixer with the fresh ingredients to form 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.
- Grip the muddler in the palm of your hand and gently press down while giving it a half-turn.
- Release and continue this motion until the ingredients are sufficiently muddled (generally about four to six turns).
- Add the drink's other ingredients (including ice, if needed) and follow the recipe's recommendation to shake or stir and finish mixing the drink.
How to Muddle Without a Muddler
Muddlers are convenient tools, but they're not absolutely necessary. You can sufficiently muddle cocktail ingredients with the flat end of a bar spoon, for instance. Another option is to use the tip of a wooden spoon, and a pestle, tamper, or French rolling pin will work if it fits in the glass. When using a kitchen tool, clean it thoroughly to remove any traces of food, spices, oils, and other contaminants that will affect the taste of your cocktail.
Muddling is a simple mixing technique, though a couple of tips will help you avoid a mess and create better cocktails:
- Don't muddle in a shaker with a plastic bottom because they are prone to cracking, even under the lightest 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, potentially over diluting the drink, and the ingredients won't be adequately muddled. This is sometimes called the "Portland muddle."