This is part 10 of a series on Mixology Basics.
Garnishes exist for several reasons. Back in the old days, it was customary to place fresh citrus peels in a punch bowl as a signal of the freshness of the punch. From there, the practice evolved, and garnishes now have several functions:
- We drink first with our eyes. The garnish decorates the glass and announces the flavors of the potion therein.
- The garnish is aromatic: cold, diluted spirits don’t have much of a fragrance, but a fresh citrus peel or a sprig of mint provides an olfactory experience as a counterpoint to the drink’s flavor.
- The garnish is sometimes a snack. In a perfect world, it is a little bite that changes or amplifies the flavor in the drink itself. The olive in a martini is the classic example.
Ideally, every drink should have a garnish. You can mix and match garnishes to suit your different drinks. Have some fun with it. Try to create interesting contrasts and visuals. Here is a list of the most common garnishes, for reference and inspiration:
- A swath or strip of citrus peel, expressed over a drink
- A wedge or wheel of citrus fruit, with a cut made so that it can sit on the edge of the glass
- A brandied cherry, on a skewer
- fresh berries, either skewered or cut to sit on the edge of the glass
- a cinnamon stick, used to stir the drink
- a star anise
- a sprig of fresh herbs, such as mint, rosemary, or thyme, possibly clipped to the side of the glass with a miniature clothespin
- a chunk of pineapple, maybe skewered, maybe accompanied by a brandied cherry
- a paper-thin slice of dehydrated citrus fruit
- any kind of fruit cut into a festive shape, such as a slice of starfruit
- salt or sugar on the rim of the glass, maybe mixed with a flavoring agent
A drink without a garnish just looks naked. When in doubt, garnish a sour with a wedge or a wheel of citrus, but be aware that most people will see this as an invitation to squeeze it into the drink and upset the balance you have created. For an aromatic drink, you can always fall back on a citrus peel.