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The Garnish: Is it necessary or is it just in my way?

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

We live in a world where a "good" Bloody Mary is defined by the extent of its garnish. In most cases, it should have at least four out of five food groups crowning its precious head, in my humble opinion. And of course a martini is only as good as its best castelvetrano. But, is a garnish always necessary?

The short answer: no. Any balanced cocktail can surely stand on its own. But, if you're feeling adventurous, you can learn how transform your drink into something more.

What does a good garnish bring to the table?

Garnishes are meant to bring something to the table, and in most cases, they bring a lot. Contrary to popular beliefs, they aren’t just for the eyes. They also can and should appeal to the nose, and to the palate. They should be all things - beautiful, delicious, textured, and palatable. A good garnish will be noticed by the eyes first, the nose second, and lastly, the tongue. Floating berries in a drink is beautiful, yes, but adding frozen berries changes the entire dynamic. Dehydrated fruit will rehydrate slowly, adding additional flavors that will change as the cocktail is enjoyed. The addition of a rim brings sweet or salty when necessary.

But most importantly, a garnish is meant to mentioned over and over again. It impacts that first look, smell, and taste, and then lingers; though there is a difference between a perfect first impression and too much just being in the way of enjoying this delicious cocktail, so choose wisely.

A garnish works best when it adds contrast

With fresh herbs, dried fruit, and so many different kinds of cherries on the market, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. What you are looking for is contrast - different colors and different textures.

Think outside the box. Citrus is always a great go to because it’s a necessary component in most cocktails. It hits the nose hard, and won’t fade as quickly as some others. Fresh cinnamon grated on top of a martini is always a fan favorite (and makes a fun stir stick!), and if using fresh herbs, don’t forget to give them a good smack before placing them in your drink - a heavy clap will release oils that will linger.

You want your garnish to tie everything together. It should bring balance - like a nice little bow on top.

A few of my favorite things

Dried Pineapple Flowers

These beauties have featured in many of my cocktails. They take a while to dehydrate, but they are so worth the effort. Carefully cut all rough skin from your pineapple, slice as thin as possible (at least ⅛ of an inch.) and bake at 200 degrees on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 6-7 hours, flipping every two hours, until dry to the touch. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to two weeks.

Dried citrus wheels with pepper

Thinly sliced oranges sprinkled with coarse black pepper before dehydrating (by the same process as above) bring a very interesting dynamic to any cocktail in need of a bite. The black pepper is subtle, but lingers on the lips. I also love sprinkling red chili on limes. It adds just the right amount of smoke, heat, and citrus for a perfect margarita. These beauties, when done correctly, will store for several months.

Dried flowers and black salt

My local spice store sells the most beautiful dried hibiscus flowers which inspired Maeve's first signature cocktail - The Hibiscus Cosmo, but it also led to some fun experiments. I once muddled dried hibiscus with course black salt for a fun twist on a margarita. Muddling dried rose petals and orange zest into coarse sugar adds amazing complexity to any drink looking for added sweetness.

If you're like me, and you scrolled to the bottom for your tl;dr, here it is. I know I said you don't need a garnish, but I lied. You do. Not every drink needs an entire meal on top - but, a martini is simply not a martini without a proper olive. It may be a bit intimidating - not only because you may be stepping out of your comfort zone, but also, there are so many possibilities. The world is literally your oyster - and there are no ends to the internet, but if you ever find yourself stuck - let's chat!

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Dec 05, 2022

Brilliant! Information I didn't know I needed to bring that extra little lift to life (and cocktails).

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