There’s never been a better time to tackle a cocktail project like at-home fermentation or fat-washing, but sometimes upgrading a cocktail only requires looking to the low-key muddler. The least fussy of bar tools is the key to dead-simple Mint Juleps and three-ingredient Caipirinhas, and has long been the shortcut to extracting deeper flavor from a variety of fruits and aromatic herbs. Thinking beyond the framework of classic Mojitos and Sherry Cobblers, a few subtle upgrades—from grilling to macerating to pickling—bring out more complexity and unexpected flavors from your fruits, and even vegetables, with the help of the humble muddler.
Grill Your Fruit
Adding a quick char before your fruit meets the muddler elevates the resulting juice to new heights. With such a high volume of Old-Fashioneds served at Portland’s Scotch Lodge, bartender Jessica Braasch saw potential to repurpose all of those peeled oranges while keeping simplicity top-of-mind. “Because these oranges lacked the oil-rich peels, I tried grilling them to add a different dimension of flavor,” she says. The technique ended up being a perfect match for her Burnt Orange Sherry Cobbler. “The sky’s the limit for burnt citrus,” she remarks, adding that a Caipirinha with aged cachaça and charred limes, for example, would benefit from the technique, as would a mezcal Margarita riff with muddled grilled strawberries.
Macerate Your Citrus
For a truly memorable Gin & Tonic, macerate your citrus. Inspired by his father’s technique, Toby Cecchini’s Gin & Tonic leans on julienned lime skins that are muddled and macerated in gin. After about 20 to 30 seconds, “the aromatic oil has clearly emerged and the whole has taken on a translucent green from the juice,” he notes. Though it’s a clear departure from conventional G&T wisdom, Cecchini’s method cleverly draws out deeper flavor and brightness from the straightforward highball without any additional ingredients.
Go Beyond the Fruit Realm
Bar director Shawn Lickliter looks to the kitchen at République for inspiration—as seen in his Snap Pea spritz. “Although they have a delicate flavor, snap peas have a decent water content and nice green aroma when muddled,” he says, indicating that muddling is the best way to express peas’ fresh flavor rather than juicing or infusing them into spirits and syrups. Lickliter recommends other aromatic vegetables with high water content, such as celery—as seen in Leo Robitschek’s cobbler-inspired Ma Cherie or the Savory Hunter from Midnight Rambler—and bell peppers, which pair well with tequila and pomegranate in Mother of Pearl’s Tijuana Rocket.
Pickle, Then Muddle
While enjoying the warm-weather bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables, it’s natural to want to extend the life of those ingredients long after markets have been picked over. “Pickled strawberries with Fresno chiles are great when muddled with agave spirits,” Lickliter points out. “It’s just the right amount of sweet and spicy without overpowering, as opposed to adding volume with pickling juice.” To start, you don’t need much more than the standing pickling ingredients—vinegar, water, salt and sugar. “I’m also not mad at muddling pickled ramps in a Tuxedo cocktail, too,” he adds.