Garnish Your Way to Great Cocktails

Step up your drinks without crossing the line.

The earliest bartending guide is attributed to Jerry Thomas, who aptly named it “Bar-tender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks” The language used throughout the book indicates that garnishing cocktails was a common practice at the time, including peels and twists. 

Legend has it that the garnish called, a “Gibson” originated out of necessity. Mr. Gibson, a banker, would take his clients out for a three martini lunch. Hoping to avoid the embarrassment of drinking too much, and to ensure he stayed sober, he would ask the waiter to bring him water in a martini glass garnished with a silverskin onion. His clients would continue to drink and he was guaranteed to close a deal in his favour. Today, we make a Gibson just as though you would a martini, but with an onion instead of an olive, oblivious to the original non-alcoholic intention of this garnish. 

Garnishes range from the common citrus garnish to general madness like a banana dolphin. Citrus garnishes are a mainstay because not only are they brightly coloured, but they also provide beautiful aromatics, juices, and oils. A wedge can be squeezed into a drink, a peel (or “twist”) can be rubbed on the rim to bring flavour to the lips before the drink even reaches the edge of the glass. Pickled vegetables are classic in martinis, Caesars or Bloody Marys. The brininess of a pickled bean submerged in clamato juice, or a bitter green olive skewered in a dry gin martini gives the entire drink a delicious edge. 

But the range of garnishes is really only limited by your imagination. It’s not uncommon to see a piece of jerky in a bourbon or whiskey drink, or shrimp in a tomato based cocktail. Herbs make a great addition to a cocktail, with rosemary sprigs or kaffir leaves, like we use in our Moxie’s GT, topping the list of usual suspects. But some establishments are taking it to the limit with cotton candy, creepy Halloween accoutrements, or even an entire meal for four atop a drink. You can make the drink into a bouquet with edible flowers, or go back to your childhood with candy and gummi frogs . For the truly brave, you can even try lighting it on fire

A garnish is for flavour, taste and aroma, not for laughs or spectacle.

The overall feel from bartenders and mixologists is that the garnish should add to the drink in some way, without overpowering it. While an entire deep fried chicken or a skewer of cheeseburgers is outlandish and therefore appealing because of its excessiveness, it does nothing to bolster the actual drink it’s meant to highlight. A simple orange rind and a playful cherry is all an old fashioned needs to be a classy drink that has withstood the ages. 

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