These days most bartenders think, “Garnish” is a small village in India. It is in fact a very important part of how a drink is received.
Officially, a garnish is a solid item or group of items placed in or on the rim of the drink. It is proof of a drink made with love and care. It raises the experience of texture, taste and smell, adding visual flair to round off the senses. In many cases (like bloody marys, martinis) the cocktail demands a garnish but in others, this staple is more of an afterthought. This is a mixed curse as many great bartenders use this lack of expectation to raise the bar and add drama and surprise to their service. Think of the garnish as a signature, a carefully chosen arrangement that will add your personality to any drink.
All drinks can benefit from garnishes. From a margarita to a gin and tonic to the more unexpected like beer, champagne or water. The trick is to choose an item that will add another level of flavor to the drink. For champagne for example the best choice might be something light, crisp and subtle. Some interesting choices have been a rose petal, a raspberry, an apricot segment, and even a slice of red pepper. These elements compliment the champagne without overpowering it bringing out certain flavors from the drink. If a drink was a piece of music a good garnish would be a turn of equalization raising the low notes, muting the highs or bringing a single instrument to the foreground but the song remains the same.
There are a few types of garnishes:
Rims: A rim is typically a powder or granules placed along the rim of a glass. This is often done by filling a plate with powder and then moistening the edge of the glass and placing it upside down on the plate. Rims can vary from sugars or cocoa powder to spices and peppers. The moistening can also add another layer to the flavor, for example using a lemon to moisten for a chilli powder rim is a common tradition for serving beer in Mexico.
Glazes: Glazes are for the most part sweeter sticky syrups that are poured along the side of the glass before the drink is added. This is often done with a decorative touch and a skilled bartender can create many complex patterns to enchant the drinker. A glaze can sometimes be combined with a rim to completely transform the glass.
Dusts: Dusting a drink isn’t just for baristas. The light dusting of a spice or powder on the surface of the drink can make that first sip a memorable one. Dusting introduces flavor and quickly fades allowing the flavors in the drink to take over.
Hangers: The more traditional form of garnish is an object or group of objects placed on the rim of the glass. This can be done by pressing it on the rim firmly until it holds or using a toothpick to bridge the rim and suspend the garnish above the drink. This particular technique is the most popular to show flair and often elaborate visuals are created by carving the garnish into shapes or designs. Concerns should be placed on the weight of the object versus the weight and angle of the glass. A recreation of Casablanca out of tropical fruit maybe too heavy for a martini glass.
Drops: This maybe the most intrusive of the garnishes as it is immersed in the drink and has the potential to overwhelm and become a major ingredient. For this reason many garnishes dropped into the drink are items that are naturally encase or skinned to promote a slow release of essences. Berries are a favorite with sweeter drinks and for hot drinks try cinnamon sticks.
Try any of these at home and ask around for other peoples favorites but above all experiment to find what you like and share that with others.
For some examples from the show click below.
Or check out these fantastic garnishes created by Jacopo Falleni
Featured Photograph by Antonio Busiello