Though not always required or called for in a cocktail, the right garnish can add to a drink’s aesthetics, aroma and flavor profile. “We savor our cocktails—and food—with all of our senses, and a beautiful garnish sets the stage for a wonderful cocktail,” says Maeve Pesquera, national director of wine for Tampa, FL-based Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.
She says that while salt, sugar and fruit on the rim on the glass have their place, garnishes built in the cocktail can have added visual appeal. “One of my favorite cocktails is our Whiskey Revival, with rye whiskey muddled with Luxardo cherries, oranges and raspberries,” Pesquera notes. “It’s just a gorgeous presentation and an amazing cocktail.”
At the second floor, 90-seat Izakaya at the Japanese restaurant Daikaya in Washington, D.C., beverage director Eddie Kim offers Dai-drops for $7 each. These spherified orbs—a cross between a garnish, ice cube and flavor enhancer—are a decidedly classier take on a “sake bomb,” in which a shot of sake is dropped into a beer.
Kim uses calcium chloride and sodium alginate to encapsulate sake that’s been lightly flavored with yuzu. Bartenders drop them into a glass of Asahi or Sapporo, they slowly melt as guests drink the beer, and the molecular mixology-made sphere bursts when gently bitten.
“The bar embodies easy accessibility to an often misunderstood cuisine/culture,” says Kim. “We are creating a convivial environment where guests can sample Japanese products and ingredients.”
EDIBLE, VISUAL AND AROMATIC
Dress the Drink is a Las Vegas-based company that offers a variety of mixology services, including creating customized garnishes. President and partner Diane Svehlak has noticed an increasing use of fruits, berries and herbs, grilled vegetables and fruits and edible flowers as drink adornments.
“At the most basic level, produce garnishes should be edible, no bigger than the actual drink and act as an aromatic or a flavor extension of the drink they adorn,” she says. Svehlak also notes that bartenders are rimming and garnishing these days with flavored, smoked and sweet salts, swizzle flavor sticks, edible flowers and flower syrups.
“Beverage garnishes often consist of fancy fruits or layers of veggies, sprigs and leaves which add visual appeal but are rarely eaten,” Svehlak says. For instance, Dress the Drink’s Bloody Mary collection includes dried cucumber, tomato and pepper strips, while the cold beverage collection has dried citrus and tropical fruit chips.
Dress the Drink also has Sippable Edible straws made from cantaloupe and coconut, honeydew and dill or apple and caramel. Six different edible drink stirrers mix ingredients including habanero, sea salt and bacon.
The company’s Champagne Bar collection boasts edible gold flakes, silver dusted “diamonds” or a blend of crushed flowers and raspberry for flutes. These aromatic, edible and artistically appealing fruits, vegetables and edible flowers “have the power to punctuate, compliment, clarify and elaborate on what’s happening in the glass,” Svehlak says.
Since pre-Prohibition-style cocktails are still in vogue, Stefan Trummer, owner of Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, VA, has seen a movement away from garnishes for many drinks. But if a bartender decides to use a one—whether a simple twist of lemon or a custom-crushed rimming creation—he advises putting some thought and effort into it.
You don’t want to just place a garnish on the glass rim or in the drink as an afterthought, he says. And make sure any fresh ingredients used are ripe and in season and also a good fit with the drink’s flavor profile.
“Don’t put garnishes that overpower or don’t taste right” with the cocktail, Trummer says. “Everything on or in the drink should add to the flavor, not take away.”
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.