Tools of the Tavern: The Muddler
Dating back to the American Revolution, the muddler, or “toddy stick” as it was called then, is one of the oldest specialized bar tools in a mix master’s bag of tricks.
In early tavern days, it was common for a barkeeper to have a nutmeg grater, a set of iron pokers for heating drinks, and the “toddy stick”. It traveled with its Scottish owners (where the toddy originated) and settled into colonial American life. It became quite the multi-tasker for the tavern owner. The “stick” was used to crush hard lumps of sugar (that’s the way it came back then), crush spices (not unlike a pestle), and stir the sugar with hot or cold water to make a Toddy, Sling, or a Flip.
“There was a particular rhythmic sound as it swirled around the glass and was a notable memory of early American taverns.”
The “Bellowstop” was an early predecessor to the “flip” and consisted of strong beer, dried pumpkin, molasses, and rum. The tavern owner heaped huge spoonfuls of a mixture of cream, eggs, and sugar to a full quart of the beer and rum. He would thrust the heated toddy stick into the mixture and then whisked up another beaten egg for the froth to gush over the top of the mug.
Along came ice. With America’s freshwater supply plentiful, the ice age of the drink emerged in the first part of the 19th century, and stirred and shaken cocktails, with syrup, became the norm. The Toddy stick once again became a forefront tool as bartenders needed a way to incorporate fresh herbs and fruits in these new revolutionary styled drinks that were chilled, shaken, and stirred.
Fast forward to modern-day mixology and the muddler still stands tall in the menagerie of the bar tool collection. Some are elegant pieces of art crafted by a woodworker. Some are ergonomically designed stainless steel rods that fit your hand like a glove while working. The choice is up to you. Stainless steel is dishwasher safe and is perfectly fit for muddling in a stainless steel shaker. Wood muddlers are up to the same task and can handle a sturdy mixing glass or old fashioned glass.
My muddler of choice is the PUG! muddler (an acronym for Pick Up Gallagher’s!). Hand lathed by craftsman Chris Gallagher. Chris became curious about cocktails when he met Gary Regan and saw Gary’s tool bag. He recognized the “classic’ design of the muddler could be improved, and working with Regan created the PUG! The cut-away handle fits perfectly to your palm and becomes an extension of the arm working with the body to allow maximum efficiency with minimal effort.
My muddler is crafted from Jatoba wood and was one of the first produced by the duo, complete with Gaz Regan’s signature on the handle. I have had this muddler in my bag of elixir tricks for about ten years now and it has been my workhorse in mashing and muddling fresh herbs, spices, fruit, and sugars. I can’t imagine my mixing life without it.