I should note that I'm not much of a Gear Guy, once I've got a setup I like. I have Boston shakers of the all-metal and metal-and-glass varieties, a small cobbler shaker or two that I got as freebies, a few mixing glasses (though I do have my eye on a Yarai), the Oxo mini measuring cup instead of a jigger (I keep meaning to scratch a 3/4 oz. line in there), a Hawthorne strainer I got in some long-ago bar set from Crate & Barrel, a channel knife from the BarSmarts kit, a lemon squeezer, a mixing spoon, and a julep strainer (all of the no-name variety, from various restaurant-supply houses). I'm not one who typically fetishizes certain kinds of equipment -- once my gear clears a certain utilitarian level, I'm pretty good to go.
When it comes to muddlers, I feel pretty much the same way. I've gotten several over the years, as purchases and as free swag, and have held on to two of them. One came from the BarSmarts kit, and is a nice smooth thin muddler with a smooth face and distinct head. I honestly don't remember where I got the other one from, but it's slightly shorter and more bulbous in the hand, and its face has big grinding teeth cut into it. Both are unfinished wood, which is crucially important -- as Arctic Chill points out, you do not want little bits of varnish or lacquer flaking off into your guests' drinks. (I suppose that in a pinch, you could always scrape a little off the wood if you don't have any nutmeg to grate atop your punch. Not sure I'd recommend it though.)
The purpose of muddling is to release flavor-packed oils from where they're trapped in aromatic leaves and fruit peels. Mint, the most commonly-muddled herb (though you can make some great drinks with basil, rosemary, sage, and more) is pretty delicate, and I always treat it very carefully, making sure it's on the top of the grocery bag and won't get beaten up in the fridge. You have to gently muddle mint to release the flavor from the tiny hairs on the undersides of the leaves, but if you're too aggressive with it and crush the veins of the leaves, you'll release bitter chlorophyll instead, which will completely obliterate whatever great mint flavor you were trying to extract. This is where I use the flat-faced muddler, and typically very gently press the mint in sugar syrup, and work it up the sides of the julep cup or mixing glass. As BarSupplies.com points out in their useful guide to muddling, having a muddler with a toothed face will unacceptably shred and tear the herbs, so a flat-faced muddler is definitely the way to go. (Some also like flat muddlers for crushing sugar cubes, but I don't tend to find myself doing that too often -- I make my Old-Fashioneds with simple syrup to ward off gritty drinks.)
Where a toothed muddler is useful, though, is in extracting citrus juice and the wonderful aromatic, flavorful oils in the citrus zest. I do this when I make an oleo-saccharum for punch, or a Mojito or an Old-Fashioned: a few sugar crystals in the bottom (to help tear open the zest), the citrus peel, glossy side down, and then some muscular muddling to extract the oils.
The Arctic Chill muddler is comfortable in the hand, weighs enough to let you crush peels with some authority -- some lighter plastic muddlers just feel too flimsy -- and the stainless steel looks great. (The rounded end could conceivably be used for bruising herbs, but I tend to not want to handle a tool and then insert the handle into a drink. Thus my ownership of multiple muddlers.) The nylon head has many small tetrahedral teeth, which makes it good for juicing and muddling citrus, but less good for herbs. I was able to use the smooth sides of the head to bruise some mint, but it felt a bit awkward. I'm also glad that the head is plastic; an all-stainless-steel muddler with a metal face seems like a way to easily chip your glassware. And glass chips in one's drink would be even worse than varnish. The muddler seems quite durable, and (even though I don't own one) is dishwasher-safe, though they do recommend hand-washing. It's not like it takes very long to wash a muddler anyway.
What better way to test out a new muddler than to make a drink that requires muddling both citrus and herbs? I thought of the Whiskey Smash straightaway. The Smash, first described by Jerry Thomas in the 1862 first edition of How to Mix Drinks, the first American bar book, as "a Julep on the small plan", it originally consisted of sugar, mint, and whiskey. Bobby Flay's Bar Americain reportedly adds lemon, a natural, wonderful idea that makes the drink kind of a cross between a Whiskey Sour and a Mint Julep. I made mine with Widow Jane rye, from a company from Red Hook, Brooklyn (but not distilled there, as their website erroneously states. I assume it's MGPI rye, given the 95% rye/5% malted barley mashbill.)
Rye Whiskey Smash
- 2 oz. rye whiskey
- half a lemon
- 3/4 oz. rich simple syrup
- 8-10 mint leaves
Cut the lemon half into quarters, and add the lemon pieces and simple syrup to a mixing glass. Firmly muddle the lemon with a toothed muddler. Add the mint leaves and gently bruise them. Add whiskey, and shake with ice. (Shake a little less vigorously than usual, due to the fragile mint.) Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice, and garnish with a freshly-spanked sprig of mint.
So, the upshot is that if you're looking for a toothed muddler, the Arctic Chill Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddler is a perfectly good choice. At a recommended price of $13.95, it's not as expensive as some -- and this is certainly nicer than the Rösle offering -- but definitely costs more than some basic muddlers. I'm going to hang on to this one, as the build quality's good, and you know it's not going to flake into pieces on you. And you may want to pick up a smooth-headed muddler for using on herbs.