Alright everyone, it’s time to put a misconception to rest: There is no muddling involved in the making of an Old Fashioned.
Now that we live in an era where getting a good cocktail is becoming a pretty easy thing to do, the debates over how they should be made seems to be making resurgence as well. It’s nice to see that people have an interest in making sure that they’re getting a well-made drink. I’m even happy that people are willing to go toe-to-toe to fight for their ideal version of a cocktail. My problem is that most of the ideas espoused in the “perfect cocktail” debate are rooted in James Bond movies and 1950’s American Steakhouse trends, not in an understanding of the history of cocktails and knowledge of how great cocktails are produced.
I try my best to refrain from being a snarky, condescending “mixologist,” but after a while my emotions rise up and get the best of me. There are a few phrases that I commonly overhear that simultaneously make a little piece of me laugh and little piece of me die. Let me give you a few examples.
There’s the “How many cherries should I muddle into an Old Fashioned?” question.
The ever-popular “Don’t shake that too much. You’ll bruise it.” This sentence is the bartending version of a backseat driver.
I can’t leave out “I’ll take a Vodka Martini. Dry. Bone dry. With three olives please.”
Don’t forget “Shaken. Not stirred.”
This is by no means a comprehensive list. It’s merely a few examples of the numerous misconceptions that surround the world of cocktails that we as bartenders face on an almost daily basis. Us bartenders love making our guests happy, but these preconceived notions about how drinks should be made sometimes make us feel like we’re fighting an uphill battle. I think it’s time we go ahead and address these examples.
Muddling an orange and a cherry is not part of the process in making an Old Fashioned. This is one of the tastiest and most easily made cocktails that exists. Let’s keep it that way. To make one, just pour a healthy dose of brown booze into a glass, add simple syrup to your liking, and throw in a couple dashes of bitters. That’s all it takes.
The reason some people think that muddling fruit into this cocktail is two-fold: When the Old Fashioned first came into existence, simple syrup wasn’t a common item behind the bar. To sweeten the drink the bartender would have put a bit of lump sugar in a glass along with whatever citrus peel was handy and then used a muddler to break down the sugar into granules that would be able to dissolve easily into the Bourbon. This was common practice until Prohibition. Thankfully, we now have a modern invention called simple syrup that has eliminated this part of the process.
After Prohibition there were no skilled bartenders left in America, so the task of recreating popular cocktails was left to whomever thought they were the best suited for the job. Having heard that at one point in time a muddler was used, bartenders assumed it was for the orange and cherry that were the original garnish. From there this bastard incarnation of a once regal drink propagated itself across our country, and now just won’t seem to die.
Let’s move on to the Martini.
First things first, you can’t bruise alcohol. I don’t care how hard you shake it. It doesn’t have the required anatomical structure that is necessary for bruising to occur. You can however over-dilute a cocktail, which is both a tragic occurrence and brings me to my next point. A Martini should be stirred not shaken. When making drinks that consist solely of alcoholic ingredients, a proper level of dilution and chill is a key factor in making it taste the way it should. By shaking this drink you lose all control over how quickly the ice melts in the mixing tin, making it highly likely that the resulting cocktail will be too watered down to be enjoyable. Stirring, on the other hand, allows you control how much of the ice melts into the liquor and gives you a bigger window of time to determine if your drink is too strong or just right. It also keeps the cocktail from becoming foggy from all of the air bubbles that get trapped in the liquor from shaking.
In the next few weeks I’ll take some time to write about the Vodka Martini as it’s a subject that can easily take up an entire post on its own. For now I hope that this information will help to bring these debates to an end. As always, I encourage everyone to find a knowledgeable bartender and trust that they can make you a great cocktail. Don’t let these urban legends prevent you from enjoying a properly made Old Fashioned or Martini.