To Muddle or Not To Muddle?
The muddler is the most rudimentary tool found behind the bar. The modern muddler originates from the toddy stick, a multi-purpose bar tool found behind the bar in the 18th Century; used for smashing sugar and breaking up stubborn items. Nowadays the muddler has been refined into a tool for incorporating fresh herbs and fruits into drinks.
Muddling itself, however, is loathed by bartenders across the country, and many will openly admit this fact. But muddling exists and it’s here to stay. Should you incorporate it into your bar program? When shouldn’t you and what are some of the benefits, drawbacks, and alternatives of muddling? We’ve got it all here for you!
The benefits of muddling become apparent once you’ve stood over a glass muddling ingredients, or even sat near a bartender who is muddling. The fresh aroma of the ingredients leap into the air and can be smelt near and far, advertising themselves to patrons sat in the vicinity.
Muddling herbs releases the oils trapped inside the leaves and muddling fruit releases the juice from the flesh and the oils from the rind; something which can’t be obtained by just squeezing alone. There’re other techniques for extracting these elements of fresh produce, however it is only muddling that does it in the moment, capturing these elements of your chosen ingredients at their freshest, and creating a mist of aromas inside of your bar.
The main drawback of muddling is the time it takes to undertake the task. Although it seems simple, muddling actually takes a lot more time than we actually think it does, slowing down service to all the customers in your bar.
The second drawback of muddling is that your staff need to be properly trained in order to carry out the task properly. Over-muddling can be a big problem because over-muddling pulls more than just the aromatic and flavor components of the ingredients, over-muddling extracts the bitter flavors from these ingredients potentially ruining what is often meant to be a delicately flavored cocktail.
The third potential drawback of muddling is the cost of ingredients. Fresh ingredient availability and price fluctuate with the seasons, this means that sometimes your costs will spike. Alongside there’s a chance that you will not use all the fresh produce before it goes bad. Increase in wastage and cost is a possibility.
When Not to Muddle
Muddling is best when bartenders have the time to dedicate to each muddle, as rushed muddling can result in over-muddled or under-muddled drinks. High volume bars need not force muddling. You’re always going to want to have the tools for muddling on hand, incase someone asks for the a mojito, mint julep or caipirinha. The muddler is very useful for breaking up sugar cubes for an old-fashioned. However, excluding it from the craft cocktail on your menu will save your bartenders valuable time and ensure consistency of product.
Instead of muddling there are a few different methods that can be used to incorporate the flavors of fresh ingredients into your cocktails. The most common alternative is infusion. Although infusion gets the flavor into the cocktail it’s not nearly as fresh of an expression of the flavors as you get when muddling.
Besides infusion the other method that is used to include fresh produce in your cocktails in the “smash” method. The smash is an old family of cocktails which call for fresh fruit or herbs to be incorporated into a cocktail without the use of muddling. For a smash the cocktail is shaken with fresh ingredients, this action of shaking opens up the ingredients releasing their flavors and aromas. Also, the fresh ingredients can simply be stirred into the beverage; this method is reserved for delicate herbs. Although the smash method does the job it doesn’t open the fruits and herbs up as well as muddling. Neither does it create the fresh mist of scent that arises from muddling.
Muddling is always going to be a useful tool in the bartenders arsenal, allowing them to incorporate great and fresh flavors into their cocktails. But muddling has its time and place on menus. If incorporated correctly at a well staffed bar it can greatly enhance a bar program. If muddling is over used or used when the volume of a bar dictates it shouldn’t be, then it can be detrimental to the bar itself by taking up a bartender time when they could be tending to customers or producing more drinks.