Muddling my way through Blue Monday…
If you look up the word “muddle” in the dictionary, the first 4 meanings focus on mental confusion. It’s not until you read the 5th meaning that you come upon anything related to cocktail making. The interesting thing is there’s actually quite a bit of confusion as to how to properly muddle ingredients in a drink, so it seems fitting that the meanings overlap like this. Equally confusing is deciding on which muddler to buy, because there are a confounding number of choices that vary in terms of the material they’re made from, their size, and other factors. Watching a bartender muddle doesn’t always provide you with any clarity because their styles of muddling can can be so very different. Yet it’s an important technique that has to be done correctly in order for a cocktail to taste the way it should. Let’s see if we can clear this up a bit.
First of all, the main purpose of muddling is to release flavor and oils from herbs, fruits, and vegetables into a drink. Think for a minute about these 3 different ingredients. They vary in terms of their structure, right? Herbs are fairly fragile with pliable leaves and stems, fruit can be soft like blackberries, hard like apples, or somewhere in between like citrus, and vegetables can be extremely sturdy. This means that we need to apply pressure differently depending on which type of ingredient we’re actually muddling. Let’s start with herbs. I love the example that Death & Co. uses in their book to illustrate just how gentle you need to be. They recommend that you put a mint leaf in your mouth and press on it with your tongue. You’ll immediately taste its flavor. Then start to chew it and watch how quickly that flavor becomes bitter. The same is true with mudding. Be as gentle as possible with herbs, just pressing down and turning slightly, otherwise you’ll extract undesirable bitter components and they’ll end up in your cocktail. Also, I’ve found that most cocktail books recommend adding sweetener in (if a recipe calls for it) with herbs when muddling to extract as much flavor as possible. Citrus fruits will require a bit more pressure to extract their flavor, and firmer fruits and vegetables even more than that, but the purpose of muddling is still not to crush the ingredients into a pulverized mess.
Muddlers come in a variety of materials, but those made from PVC plastic are the most highly recommended by a multitude of sources. There are a number of reasons why. They won’t splinter or wear like wood, they’re easy to keep clean, and they have clearly defined edges that work well against the sides of shaker tins. Be sure to choose one that’s long enough; a muddler that’s too short for your shaker tin makes no sense at all. The muddler that I use is called the “Bad Ass” (yes, you are reading that correctly) and it’s made by Cocktail Kingdom.
Today’s drink is called Blue Monday after the fact the the 3rd Monday in January is considered by many people to be the gloomiest, most depressing day of the year. Dr. Cliff Arnall, formerly of Cardiff University in the UK was the first person to come up with this concept in 2005. He developed a formula based on things like the weather, Christmas bills, post-Christmas sadness, motivation, and unfulfilled New Year’s resolutions. This cocktail is a riff on a Cucumber Collins that uses Bluecoat gin, St. Germain, and Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth. My hope is that it’s a drink that will conjure up thoughts about warm weather and summer vacation, lifting our spirits, even if it’s just a little bit! This recipe will require muddling blackberries, cucumbers, and mint. When there are multiple ingredients like this, it’s best to stack them so that you’re able to apply pressure properly. In this case the mint would go on the bottom of the shaker tin with the simple syrup, the blackberries would be next, and the cucumber slices would go on the top. You can follow this general idea for any recipe: most fragile ingredients on the bottom, sturdiest on the top.
2 oz Bluecoat gin
1/4 oz St. Germain
1/4 oz Dolin Rouge Sweet Vermouth
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz lemon juice
2 dashes DRAM Citrus Medica bitters
2 oz club soda
6 blackberries, 6 thinly sliced cucumbers, 1 mint sprig for muddling
1 blackberry, 1 thick cucumber slice cut in half, and 1 mint sprig for garnishing
Muddle the mint, blackberries, and cucumber slices with the simple syrup in the bottom of a shaker tin. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the garnishes) and fill with ice. Shake for 30 seconds until very cold. Strain into a Collins glass filled with ice. Top with the club soda. Garnish with the cucumber, blackberry, and mint sprig. Enjoy!