According to the dictionary, muddle, a verb that most likely is derived from the Dutch or German language, has several meanings. It can mean to make a mess of or to act or think in a confused way. In terms of creating drinks, it can also mean to mix ingredients together in a less than neat kind of way.
Though you may not necessarily be familiar with the term, it is probably a technique that bartenders have been using for quite some time to create the drinks that you enjoy. In fact, the technique is probably used just as often and is just as important as straining, stirring, and shaking.
When muddling, ingredients are combined by pressing them together with a tool called a muddler. This is usually done right in the mixing glass that is being used to create the drink, and is completed prior to most of the drink's liquid ingredients being added to the glass. While it may seem as if the technique is fairly cut and dry, there are actually several ways to muddle. Some people find that smashing the ingredients using an up and down motion is the way to go. Others use a less aggressive approach by twisting the muddler to combine the ingredients. Others, still, use a bit of both techniques to achieve the perfect results. But, they key to muddling is using a muddler.
If you've never used one before, and aren't sure what a muddle even looks like, it resembles a pestle that is used in conjunction with a mortar to mix together cooking ingredients, such as spices. It looks much like a baseball bat, with a larger end for the muddling and a smaller end that is ideal for mixing.
You can find muddlers in almost any store that carried bar equipment. There are usually two types to choose from--wooden and steel. Wooden muddlers are the most common, but the sleek, steel version is quickly gaining in popularity because it is so easy to use and is a cinch to clean.
Many bartenders find that a wooden muddler is preferable to use over its steel counterpart, but the type of muddler you choose is completely up to you. In fact, if you don't have a muddler on hand, you can even use the back of a metal or wooden spoon or any other hard tool that you may already have in your kitchen.
Even if you've never muddled before, it is definitely a technique that should be added to your drink making repertoire. The reason why is simple. Muddling can make the difference between a so-so drink and one that is extraordinary. It brings out the extra flavor from certain ingredients, such as fruits and herbs, that you wouldn't get if they were just thrown into the drink.
So, the next time you find a recipe that calls for muddling, don't shy away from it. Grab your muddler and muddle away. Your taste buds will thank you for it.