The first cocktail drink we ever made at home was mojito. We bought a bottle of Bacardi that came with a free tumbler and muddler. Since we had mint and lime growing in the garden, making mojito seemed like the natural next step.
My husband, Speedy, made mojito by pressing lime wedges, sugar and mint leaves in glasses, poured in rum and topped the drink with club soda. And I fell in love with mojito. It became my choice of drink from that fateful day. I also started serving it to friends whenever we entertained.
Fast forward to a few months later. There was a law class reunion at the Manila Polo Club and, when the waiter asked what I wanted, I replied that I wanted a mojito. Of course, I was expecting a superiorly prepared mojito. I was at the ultra-exclusive Manila Polo Club, after all. To my surprise, there were no pressed lime wedges in the drink and the mint leaves looked like the mixture had been processed in the blender. Oh, boy. What a disappointment.
Fast forward to another few months. Some girl friends and I met at a Mexican restaurant. All-you-can-drink during Happy Hours. I asked for a mojito and was handed a glass containing a liquid that didn’t look very different from the one I had at the Manila Polo Club. Mint leaves in smithereens and no visible fresh lime. Worse, the drink was watered down.
Naturally, I stuck to ordering margaritas after that. If I wanted mojito, we just made it at home. As strange as it was, bartenders didn’t seem to understand that the blender is not a substitute for muddling ingredients to make a cocktail drink.
What is a muddler?
A muddler looks like a tapered stick — flat on one end and rounded on the other. Is is shaped to fit snugly in the hand to make muddling easy and comfortable.
Who invented the muddler? Well, I can’t find any name but, if it helps, it is a descendant of the toddy stick which was used to makeHot Toddy. The toddy stick was essentially a stirrer, it did the job of dissolving sugar in the hot cocktail well, but it couldn’t have delivered good results had it been used to make press juice from a lime for making mojito, for instance.
The muddler came at around the same time as the use of ice became popular. Prior to the second half of the 1800s, ice was harvested in places like Grindelwald in Switzerland and used to transport meat and dairy to far off places with little chance of spoiling. Then, after commercial refrigeration spread, ice plants were born and eventually replaced the ice trade.
As ice became more accessible, cold cocktail drinks were born. Fresh fruits, whole or cut, spices and herbs were mixed into alcohol to create exotic flavors. To coax the flavor and aroma of the fruits, spices and herbs, a special tool was necessary. And the muddler was born.
Which is better: a wood or metal muddler?
I’ve seen three kinds of muddler in the market — plastic, wood and metal. Plastic, especially cheap plastic, is too flimsy and likely to break during use.
Wood is fine except that it’s a headache to clean and dry. If you have to muddle two or three different cocktails and you have only one wooden muddler, imagine that the flavors from the first cocktail will remain in the wood as you mix the second cocktail, and so on.
So, we use use metal muddlers at home. If the flat end is coated in rubberized plastic, so much the better because that coating will protect the bottom of the drinking glass as you press and grind the solid ingredients that you’re muddling.
How to use a cocktail muddler
Muddling means pressing and mixing two or more ingredients. Every cocktail recipe will require a different set of ingredients but the most basic is citrus and sugar.
To muddle lemon and sugar, for instance, cut the lemon into wedges, drop into a glass, add the sugar then press them down repeatedly while turning the glass around, little by little, using the other hand. Use the flat end of the muddler (because most glasses are flat inside at the bottom so that makes sense).
The muddling will dissolved] the sugar in the lemon juice while the bruising will release oils from the lemon zest to give off a lovely, and natural, citrusy aroma. Once the muddling is done, you simply pour in the liquid ingredients and stir everything together.
Nothing can compare with a properly muddled cocktail drink. Those bad mojitos I had in the past were probably made with commercial lime juice. Without fresh lime, there is no zest to bruise, and the mojito simply smelled and tasted flat.
So, if you’re a fan of cocktail drinks that have ingredients that call for muddling, get a cocktail muddler and use it.