As mixology has advanced at breakneck speed over the past decade, so has the icing-on-the cake of the cocktail world—the garnish.
No longer just for show or simple flavor enhancement, the garnish has gone from functional first mate to kooky captain, guiding the sipper through a psychedelic sea of aromas, textures and tastes.
London barkeeps seem to be leading the charge. At Nightjar, the whiskey-and saké-based Name of the Samurai is finished with a matcha green-tea cookie and an origami bird sprayed with perfume, while a gin drink called Deep Sea is adorned with a dried starfish.
In the U.S., Bloody Marys and other so-called brunch punches are key vehicles for loading up snacks disguised as garnishes, such as jalapeño and pork rinds (at Khong River House in Miami Beach) or prawns and caper berries (at Foreign Cinema in San Francisco).
Chicago’s Storefront Company tops its Scotch-based brunch boozer with an entire meal: skewered kumquat, duck confit, duck prosciutto and a deviled duck heart.
Others utilize garnish to echo ingredients already in the drink, like the jackfruit roll-up at Embeya in Chicago, which is laid gently across a drink made with a jackfruit cordial.
At Oak at Fourteenth in Boulder, Colorado, a blackberry rolled gracefully in a sage leaf accents the East Aspen Heights cocktail, made with gin, Yellow Chartreuse, sage and fennel-infused syrup and blackberries.
“I’m constantly inspired,” says Matthew Biancaniello, cocktail chef at Cliff’s Edge in Los Angeles, who once topped his Bloody Mary with a deep-fried chicken foot.
“It’s about telling a story and providing an experience,” Biancaniello says. “There really is no end to what we can do.”
Using the humble orange, here are two top-choice garnishes to make your next drink presentation pop. Both techniques are adapted from Dr. Cocktail (2012, Running Press), by Alex Ott.
Garnish: Orange Skin Rosette
1 orange peel, cut into 1-inch wide and 4-inch long pieces
1 bay leaf, or mint leaf
1. Roll the peel, skin side out, into a cylinder. Gently push up the innermost roll so it resembles a rose.
2. With your thumb on the end of the peel, hold the shape upright. Without letting it unfold, cut a ½-inch incision into the bottom, through all the layers. Gently place the rose onto a glass rim.
3. Place a bay leaf or mint leaf into the outer layer to give it a natural touch.
Cocktail: Dress up a tall and cool cocktail, such as the Orange Blossom, with this citrusy delight.
Garnish #2: Orange-Skin Star
1 round of orange peel
1. Use a spoon to remove flesh from the orange peel.
2. From the inside of the peel, use a star-shaped cookie cutter to stencil out the shape of the garnish. (This works with other shapes too, if you have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, for example.)
3. Use a knife to cut a small incision on the orange peel and place it on the rim of your cocktail glass.
Cocktail: This star garnish looks gorgeous perched on the edge of a dark-hued drink, like a Negroni or an Old Fashioned.