Summer is in full swing! The days are long and the drinks are cold. But the best thing about summer is the bounty of amazing fruits and herbs whose abundance inspire the most creative and delicious cocktails of the year. With just a flick of the wrist even the most ordinary cocktail becomes outstanding. No, I’m not talking about a magic wand, but close!
Introducing the muddler
Muddling is quite possibly the easiest technical skill one can do at home to take their cocktails from ordinary to outstanding. This medieval looking wooden stick (essentially a pestle) is the key to unlocking bright flavors and oils from soft-leafed herbs, crunchy spices, and juicy, ripe fruits directly into your drink. So what exactly is muddling? Muddling is the process in which you use the end of a flat, often wooden dowel to apply pressure, force open, or squeeze out a desired flavor from a solid ingredient. We recommend using a flat bottomed muddler like this one found at the Bottle Shop. You’ll see many options out there including ones with little spikes but you’ll find yourself flipping it over to use the flat end more often than not. A flat surface aids in equal pressure and equal release of aromas and oils you’re hunting for.
How To Use
When gripping a muddler, lower it into your tin/glass and apply gentle, even pressure to your ingredients. I like to twist while applying pressure, and if needed, work the ingredients from different angles to make sure all of their essence has been extracted. No need to pound the ingredients—muddle fruits and herb slowly and intentionally. Moving too quickly will cause liquid to go flying out of the tin that you worked so hard to extract it in the first place!
Muddling should always be done in a glass or shaker tin and then strained into another glass. If using a two piece shaker tin (highly recommended!), muddle in the small tin, not the large. Trust me on this one. The larger tin requires you to put more of your hand inside to reach the bottom, which restricts angles and mobility. You should also almost always double strain a muddled drink. Be sure to use both a hawthorne strainer AND a fine mesh strainer so you don’t end up with bits of fruit or herbs in your drink or teeth.
When it comes to muddling, there are lots of dos and don’ts depending on what ingredient you’re working with. I’ve found that each has it’s own little tricks. Here are some commonly muddled ingredients and my pro-tips on how to perfectly extract delicious flavors from each of them.
Before muddling, pre-peel the skins off. The skins of cucumber can get bitter when muddled and can inhibit some of the freshness cucumber so easily provides. Give it a try in the Cucumber Cooler, Rose Parade, or The Range.
For this ingredient, less is more. And always try to use a fresh, green pod. You don’t need to pulverize the seeds, but definitely crack them. They are very generous with their aromas.
GENTLE is the key. Mint should be pressed super lightly because it will become very bitter very fast if muddled too aggressively. Since this cocktail will end up getting shaken after muddling anyway, you don’t need to do much more than press on the leaves to extract the oils. The ice you’ll add to the tin will continue to extract flavor as you shake. Test it out in these fun muddled mint cocktails.
Strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, peaches, (soft fruits)
Find the ripest fruits you can and apply pressure generously. Absolutely fine strain these out because once muddled they can get stringy or leave seeds behind in the glass. I also suggest garnishing your cocktail with even more fruit than called for to enhance the flavor. If cocktailing with these amazing summer fruits sound appealing, check out this Blueberry Thyme Vodka Smash or an ultra-refreshing Heat Exchange. If you like peaches, definitely make a Ross Island Iced Tea with our spicy Hot Monkey Vodka. Or chill out with a Strawberry Basil Cooler.
Don’t muddle! Cinnamon is quite literally sticks and when cracked little splinters can break off into your drink. I recommend micro-planing these instead or using a fine duster/shaker with ground cinnamon.
Remove the core of the fruit, cut into small pieces, and muddle HARD. There is so much delicious juice in each small piece of pineapple and you’re going to want every last drop. Give it a whirl in this delicious, blender free Piña Colada.
This powerful leaf packs a punch and can go from perfumy to pungent quickly. Muddle very gently and be sure to not go overboard when experimenting with this herb. Its resinous aroma can be pretty potent so often times just a few leaves will do. In cocktails I like pairing sage with juicy summer fruit. If that sounds up your alley, consider shaking up this Raspberry Sage Vodka Collins or Blackberry Sage Vodka Lemonade.
Citrus wedges with peels attached
You’ll really need to push down hard on these but the reward will be worth it because there is so much expressive oil in the peels that will be transferred into your drink when done right. The citrus oils really take a cocktail to the next level.
Happy muddling friends!