With spring finally taking hold across most of North America, drinkers are turning their attention once again to warm-weather cocktails: drinks that quench the thirst and cool the body. One of the most famous of these has to be the mojito, the ubiquitous Cuban highball made of lime juice, muddled mint, sugar, rum, and a hit of soda.
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to screw up a mojito, and among the worst things you can do to one is to overmuddle the mint. But what is overmuddled mint, what does it do to a cocktail, and what's the right way to muddle mint, or for that matter, any herb?
First, take a close look at a mint leaf; you should see little veins running through the leaf. Those veins contain chlorophyll, and as it turns out, chlorophyll is bitter. So the worst mistake you can make while muddling is to crush or shred mint leaves so they release their bitter chlorophyll. Where will that chlorophyll wind up?
In your cocktail. Yuck.
If you've ever had a grassy-tasting mojito, that's probably why.
Next, contemplate your muddler. You can use a variety of items to muddle a drink; there's no actual need to go out and buy a muddler. The handle of a rolling pin will do in a pinch. If you do buy a muddler, be careful what you buy. You want a muddler that has not been varnished or lacquered. The varnish on a muddler will eventually wear off, and where will it wind up?
In your cocktail. Yuck.
So choose a muddler made of unvarnished wood. Other types are made of stainless steel with a plastic or hard-rubber muddling base, and those are fine too. (But avoid the type with teeth on the end; they're great for muddling the juice and oils from fruit, but they can cause you to shred the leaves of mint and other herbs.)
With those warnings behind us, the question now is, what's the right way to muddle?
Not like this; this is the wrong way:
The Right Way to Muddle
- Choose a sturdy mixing glass, a pint glass, or a shaker tin. If you choose a thin-walled glass, you risk breaking or chipping the glass with your muddler.
- Place the leaves into the bottom of the glass. Add sugar, pieces of fruit, or whatever else the recipe calls for.
- Place the muddler in the glass. Press down with it lightly on the leaves and give a few gentle twists. If there's also fruit in the glass, you should see juice squirting out from the flesh.
- When your kitchen smells minty (or basil-y or thyme-y or herby), you're done, and your mint should look something like this: