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Muddling, a How-To


Had it not been for the meteoric rise of the Mojito, your average happy hour patron would probably still think that “muddling” is something best left to nosey mother-in-laws and high-school gossips.

However, thanks to that delectable concoction from Cuba, come summer, amateurs everywhere will once again try their hand at smashing those delicate mint leaves to a pulp.

But when it comes to muddling, it’s not simply about brute strength. There is an art to it. And there are proper tools and techniques.

“Muddling is about releasing flavor, not destroying it,” says Alexander Day, an LA-based mixologist. “Which, more than anything else, means having an understanding of the ingredient you're muddling and how best to extract its flavor. … muddling is more about controlled pressure.”

With mint or basil, for example, you just need to press the muddler down into the herbs in an empty shaker. Pressing too hard and tearing the leaves, will extract chlorophyll, which may make for a pretty color, but also a bitter drink.

Berries or lime segments can handle more pressure. Use the muddler and twist slightly to break the fruit apart. If it’s to be a shaken drink, stop there. The ice will do the rest.

Long pestles shaped much like a baseball bat, muddlers are commonly made of wood, but can also be found in stainless steel, or even plastic with teeth at the bottom. The wooden variety works best for the more delicate herbs; the newer, toothed designs for the meatier items. You should hand wash the wooden tool, but the metal and plastic muddlers can be tossed into the dishwasher.

Experiment with your muddler material of choice, but beware the lazy muddler. Some experimental bartenders will add citrus, herbs, and ice and smash away. This does not make a craft cocktail, but rather a pulverized mess of the precious oils in your fresh ingredients that not even top-shelf brands and good mixers can cover up.


The Perfect Muddle:

  1. Choose your tool: Wooden for finesse. Stainless steel or plastic for durability.
  2. Muddle early: The action should be the first or second step, before adding ice.
  3. Match the pressure to the ingredient: light pressure for herbs, more muscle and a twist for berries and citrus.
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