You’ve finally carved away precious square footage to make room for that most sacred of household additions: the home bar. But turning out top-notch drinks while in your slippers takes more than good intentions. There are bottles to buy, tools to agonize over and techniques to master. Follow us as we help you navigate your home bar basics.
Think of the muddler as the pestle of the bar world. Used to extract juice from fruit pulp and essential oils from herbs and citrus peels, there isn’t a substitute out there that’s as efficient. (Just ask any high-volume bartender cranking out hundreds of Mojitos to go without it for a busy shift.) But just like with other cocktail tools, not all muddlers are created equally, and variations exist in material, shape and texture. Basically, it all boils down to wood versus a dishwasher-safe material like plastic or metal, tooth grip or smooth, and width/length. Here’s how to pick the right one for you.
(image: Tim Nusog)
The precursor to the muddler was the toddy stick, used in the 18th century to break up sugar and grind spices for the namesake warming tipple. When the ice industry took off in the first part of the 19th century, shaken and stirred cocktails with syrups became the norm. Bartenders needed something to incorporate herbs and fruit into these revolutionary chilled drinks, and the toddy stick’s purpose morphed into that of the muddler we know and use today.
Fletcher’s Mill muddler (image: Tim Nusog)
What the Experts Say
Unequivocally, Valentine Restificar, the beverage director at O-Ku in Washington, D.C., cites the Fletcher’s Mill muddler as his personal favorite. “It’s simplistic and unassuming, it has longevity for a bar tool, and it doesn’t over-muddle,” he says. “It isn’t flashy. It performs as well as its user and is a class wood material to boot.” The downside is that its wooden construction means it needs to be handwashed and dried immediately so it doesn’t rot or warp.
Ky Belk, the bar director of Edible Beats in Denver, selects muddlers based on several factors. A dishwasher-safe material is essential for high-volume operations, and one that feels substantial in your hands will let you crush ice. Decent length is also important so it can reach the bottom of a shaker tin or large mixing glass. Finally, he avoids ones with teeth on the end. “I’m not buying a shredder,” says Belk. “Pressing too hard can release undesirable bitter elements, and shredding makes for a less appealing drink visually.” The Bad Ass muddler from Cocktail Kingdom checks all of the boxes.
Both Restificar and Belk actually recommend the Bad Ass muddler for the home bartender. “It’s dishwasher-safe and will be a constant companion in your beverage endeavors,” says Restificar. If you want several in your tool arsenal, Belk suggests adding a midpriced wooden muddler like Sur La Table’s Crafthouse by Fortessa muddler made of walnut. The PUG! muddler, with its fat, sloped top, is more of a splurge purchase, he says, not to mention a cult favorite among bartenders.
Technique is huge when it comes to using a muddler, says Restificar. If it has a tooth grip (perfect for spices), two healthy turns will suffice for mint leaves; those without might require four to five. Overmuddling can lead to bitter, off flavors that you don’t want in your drinks. And rip larger herbs like basil into smaller pieces before even reaching for the muddler.