Savvy mixologists are accessorizing their concoctions, working with eclectic garnishes from burnt cinnamon to salt-cured citrus fruit.
Adding an olive or lemon twist to a Martini raises its pedigree from nondescript glass of clear booze to instantly recognizable (and more flavorful) classic. Cocktail garnishes originated in the 19th century, when bartenders adorned cobblers with skewers of seasonal fruits. Ever since, these enticing embellishments prove it's not just what's in the glass that matters, but what's on it, around it and on top of it.
Taking a page from molecular gastronomy master (and boss) José Andrés, sommelier and mixologist Jill Zimorksi of Washington, D.C.'s Café Atlantico creates inventive garnishes like strawberry "caviar"—jellied orbs served in tins and dropped tableside into flutes of Champagne. "Garnishes are kind of like accessories to an outfit," she explains. "They can fancy it up and/or bring it all together, or make no sense and look stupid." She believes great garnishes should satisfy two requirements: they should fit the beverage in which they appear, but also add another dimension that couldn't work with a spirit or another ingredient. Zimorski latest project involves creating terroir-inspired adornments for Sauvignon Blanc wine cocktails. She dresses New Zealand varieties with a sweet, house-pickled green bean, and injects a pipette of Lillet Blanc and honey to mimic Bordeaux white wines blended with Sémillon.
Bradley Dawson of Portland, Oregon's Belly Timber takes a kitchen approach towards garnishes—they need to be edible and simple. "People will wait forty five minutes for a plate of food. The wait time for a cocktail should be considerably shorter." He employs techniques like adding a small amount of Aperol in an orange drop variation to produce a striking orange/red hue; and wraps a long, thin lemon twist around the inside of a tall cocktail glass to give a Negroni bright citrus and visual appeal. Dawson also likes to play with fire, caramelizing the rim on a cup of Spanish coffee for a toasted marshmallow aroma.
Tips for Making Showstopping Garnishes at Home:
1. Dry thin slices of apple or pear with a dehydrator or low-temperature oven.
2. Search the web to learn how to properly make a flamed orange peel. "Flaming citrus just boggles the public's mind. It's a great way to get a new scent to greet the owner of that cocktail," Dawson believes.
3. Make salt infusions by adding a few drops of essential oils (or vanilla bean pods, like Zimorksi) to Maldon sea salt.
4. Pass on those bright red Maraschino cherries. Dawson buys dried cherries, reconstitutes them in whiskey, and places them in a skewer across the glass of an Old-Fashioned.
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.trywine.net.