Muddling is one of the most difficult tasks for a bartender. It’s not too challenging when you’re dealing with berries, but if you break a mint leaf or other herb while you’re pressing it, it can release a nasty bitter flavor into your cocktail. Ever had a Mojito that had an unpleasant bitter taste? Even for bartenders, learning how to use a cocktail muddler has a bit of a learning curve.
Choosing a Cocktail Muddler
Muddlers can be made out of wood, stone or stainless steel. If you go for stainless steel, I recommend one with a grooved nylon head. It’s softer and makes it easier to avoid breaking and tearing leaves and herbs. This is the one I use.
And here’s the grooved nylon head I’m talking about. Because it’s not a solid surface, and it’s not as hard as wood, stone or metal, it makes it easy to avoid breaking leaves. The other advantage to the nylon material is that it’s supposed to not break down over time the way wood or metal might. That’s not just a manufacturer claim – I double checked it with an engineer friend. Because nylon is non-biodegradable, it’s reasonable to expect nylon to last a very long time.
How to Use a Cocktail Muddler
Not every bartender grips a cocktail muddler exactly the same way. But generally, you want to grip it from the top, with your whole hand, with the end of the muddler against your palm. This grip makes it easier to crush the leaves or berries evenly without tearing.
So let’s look at making a Mojito, or actually the Nojito I made for a recent cocktail recipe post (the muddling part’s the same either way). This type of cocktail is my least favorite to make because it’s just so easy to crush the leaves by accident. Especially if you’re not a bartender who makes a dozen of these a week. I put my mint leaves and lime juice in a little glass dish:
Next, you want to press the muddler gently against the leaves and twisted the head one way and then the other, 3-4 times. Then move on and muddle another section of the leaves. With most herbs or berries, the smell of what you’re crushing will start to waft up to you. That helps you know how much flavor you’re releasing, so you can stop when it reaches the point you like. (There is such a thing as too much mint for most palates.)
If you find you’re not releasing much flavor, then try pressing down a little more firmly before you start to twist the muddler. Over time, you’ll find the right amount of pressure to apply. But it’s always better to start out with light pressure, because you can go back and crush the leaves over again until it releases enough flavor. Press too hard, and you can break the leaves. And then the only solution is to start over.
So that’s the trick to using a cocktail muddler: press gently, twist 3-4 times. Move the muddler to another part of the leaves and repeat. And always start with light pressure until you get the hang of exactly how much pressure to use.