“Muddling” might make you think of a person who mixes everything up and gets in a horribly confused state. Maybe your dear grandmother (who is old enough to remember the birth of the Moscow Mule in 1941) muddles up names and memories. While this is the usual definition, you’ll find a second meaning is in the dictionary:
“Mix a drink or stir (an ingredient) into a drink.”
Muddling involves pressing and squashing ingredients against the inside wall of a glass or container to release the flavors so that they mix with the alcohol. It’s the cocktail world equivalent of a pestle and mortar. What are the most commonly muddled items? Answer: Herbs and fruits.
Choosing the Right Muddler
Now you don’t have to buy a muddler if you are just starting out. A wooden spoon will suffice in the beginning. But for the keen mixologists out there, here are some tips on buying your first muddler.
There are a variety of muddlers out on the market: steel, plastic, and wooden muddlers are good to start with. You can even find muddlers that double as spoons. The average muddler measures between 8-10 inches in length and is thicker at one end. Like a pool stick, make sure you use the right end to avoid looking foolish.
How do you know which end to use? Use the smaller end for herbs and use the larger, thicker end for fruits such as limes, lemons, and blueberries.
Avoid using muddlers that have sharp edges or teeth to muddle herbs as they can damage the structure of the plant and alter the taste. The sharp edges are ideal for muddling fruits however because the sharp edges will break the skin.
Here are a few of our favorites:
How to Muddle
Muddling is not just for the expert barman. Anybody can get the hang of the technique if they follow a few simple guidelines. To begin, put the ingredients in a sturdy glass or cocktail shaker. A fine glass may chip or break during the muddling.
Hold the glass with one hand and muddle with the other. Once you’ve got your grip, press, and twist as if you were crushing a cigarette or a bag of peanuts under your foot. Pressing against the base of the glass is safer than the sides because it’s a sturdier part of the glass.
Press and release then repeat a couple of times. Your nose is the best tool to indicate if you have muddled enough. You’ll notice a strong aroma coming from the crushed ingredients that indicates you’ve muddled enough.
Muddling: What You Shouldn’t Do
- Muddle the fruits and herbs separately for best results
- Muddle don’t squash. Your goal is to release the flavors and aromas, not grind the ingredients into a paste. If you over muddle plants and herbs they will release stronger, harsh flavors that are often bitter.
- Add the ice into the drink after you’ve muddled. Having ice in the glass at the same time clutters the glass and makes muddling harder.
- Muddle first, then add ingredients. The classic Mojito is a good example: Muddle the mint and sugar cubes first, then add the rum, lime juice, and club soda. Voila.
Muddling a Moscow Mule
No article on muddling would be complete without a couple of recipes to stick your muddling sticks into.While the standard Moscow Mule does not require any muddling, other variations with exotic ingredients require a bit of muddling. Here are a few delicious Moscow Mule variations when you want some change:
- The Mexican Mule
The classic Moscow Mule is a unique combination of spicy, sweet and citrus flavors. Playing with the strength of these combinations can dramatically alter the taste of your Moscow Mule. For the spicy Jalapeno Mule, you need to turn down the sweetness, increase the zest, and turn up the heat. This heat will combine amazingly with the coldness of the drink and the copper mug. Enjoy.
What you’ll need:
- 1/4 cup of fresh mint
- 1/4-cup lime juice
- 1 thinly sliced jalapeño
- 6 ounces vodka (many mule variations swap out vodka for gin)
- 12 ounces of ginger beer
- Grab a sturdy glass or cocktail shaker and use your muddler to muddle the mint leaves.
- Muddle half of the jalapeño slices and lime juice together
- Add the gin (or vodka) and stir well.
- Fill your copper mug with ice cubes and add in equal parts of your mixture leaving until your mugs are 3/4 full.
- Top off each glass with equal parts ginger beer for added bubbles and froth.
- Garnish with slices of lime and left over jalapenos and serve
- The Extra-Spicy Mule
If you want to get more muddling practice and you can bear a little more heat in your Moscow Mule, here is a recipe with a real kick:
- 2 of ounces of vodka
- 1 tablespoon of lime juice
- 1 habanero pepper, seeded and sliced
- A splash of ginger beer
- Place one slice of habanero pepper in a copper mug or glass and muddle to release the oils and aromas.
- Add the ice, lime juice, and vodka
- Top off with ginger beer and stir
Caution: Be careful when handling habanero peppers. We recommend using gloves, especially when cutting and seeding. Avoid touching your face, eyes or other body parts while cutting habanero peppers.
Muddling: Bartending School 101
The art of mixing cocktails is one of the most desired skills in the world. Once you know how to muddle, it’s time to start shaking, stirring and memorizing drinks.m Now you can impress friends and dinner guests with your muddling skills. A whole new world of learning combinations and experimenting with flavors has opened up to you. Now, go enjoy a mule on me!