Bartender Know-How: Cocktail Garnishes

Speakeasy-Co-CocktailGarnishes-Distillerista

Speakeasy Co. is back with Cocktail Garnishes 101.

DO NOT OVERLOOK THE GARNISH!

“You eat first with your eyes, then your nose, and then your mouth.”

Yeah, it’s an old saying, but it’s particularly germane this month. And, for the record, we couldn’t agree more. As soon as a dish is served, you’re assessing it without even knowing it. The crust on the steak, the vivid green of the broccoli, plump grains of rice through hot steam. You’re tasting it with your eyes and nose before you ever actually taste it, and a good chef will have you loving the dish before it ever touches your tongue.

Just as it does for food, this holds true for cocktails as well. And this brings us to the garnish.

Garnishes…

As bartenders, there’s nothing that annoys us more than going to a bar and getting a slimy lemon or a gross, browning lime. There’s honestly no better way to tell your customers that you don’t care about what you’re doing than that. Citrus wedges are basic, 101 stuff — appropriate at times, but unimpressive in both sight and smell — and if your bartender can’t do that right, how are you supposed to trust them with an actual drink?

Every time we train a bar-staff, we hit this as hard as we can: garnishes should leap out of the glass. Their job — their only job — is to make the cocktail more appealing. The garnish should smell great, look even better, and get your mouth watering to drink that cocktail.

Most people think garnishes are just what’s in those ugly plastic trays at sports bars: lemons, limes, oranges, olives, and cherries. The truth, obviously, is that anything can be a garnish, especially if you think of them as a way to enhance your aroma, or showcase your creativity, or both.

What’s the coolest or craziest garnish you’ve ever seen? Bloody Marys are famous in this game, as are Tiki drinks. At one bar, Linwood Essentials in Toronto, we’ve seen a cocktail garnished with a love poem, attached to the rim of the glass with a miniature clothespin. It was amazing.

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