Selling Cocktails for Wages?… Garnish Them!

Ever been served a neon green “apple” martini garnished with a “cherry”? UGH!

Forget the fact that the cherry is a bleached, carcinogenic, nasty tasting blob. What I want to understand is how does a “red” CHERRY compliment a green APPLE (liqueur) martini?

I’ll give you a hint… It doesn’t.

I guess they both use high fructose corn syrup and cancer causing food colors, but the similarities end there. The garnish is one of the first things the guest sees when presented with a cocktail and yet is often regarded as a tedious afterthought.

Here are my five criteria for properly garnishing a cocktail:

1) FRESH, FRESH, FRESH- Even if you’re using fruits or herbs that have been infused in syrup or alcohol it must always be fresh. By the way, the word fresh does not apply to wilted herbs or blemished fruit slices. Fresh, looks better, it tastes better, it smells better… enough said.

2) RELEVANT- Your garnish should either directly mirror, compliment or intelligently contrast the other ingredients in the cocktail. Screwdrivers get an orange garnish, Lemon Drops a lemon wedge with sugar rim. I respect a Cosmopolitan garnished with a lemon twist (lemon vodka), a lime wedge (fresh lime juice) or even syrup soaked fresh cranberries (cranberry juice). For the purist, Dale DeGroffs recipe calls for a flamed orange peel which greatly intensify’s the aromatics of the Cointreau (orange triple sec).

3) FUNCTIONAL- Your garnish MUST SERVE A PURPOSE. Adding a pretty flower to a drink adds to the visual, but unless its edible and contributes to the aromatics or balance of cocktail, it has no business in the drink. A cinnamon stick can double as a swizzle stick (if cut to the right length) and if you are going to add a slice of fresh lime, make sure its a wedge, never the wheel. The lime wheel looks gorgeous, but ultimately serves no purpose. If a guest tries to squeeze the wheel into their drink to add a little acidity, the best they can hope for is 4-5 drops of fresh lime juice and sticky fingers.

4) BEAUTIFUL- Notice that this is NOT my first criteria. Yes, a garnish should always be beautiful, always. However, it should have equal importance to the items above. Many bartenders will add a garnish to their drink simply because its required without giving thought to its visual impact. Moreover, the garnish should be beautifully consistent. If you are serving three of the same cocktail, the garnishes should all look virtually identical in size, color, shape and orientation on the glass (2 o’clock relative to the guest).

5) PROPORTIONAL SIZE- The only thing more annoying that a huge grapefruit wheel hanging over the lip of a thin chimney glass is a tiny lime sliver perched on the rim of a wide martini glass. Your garnish should look visually proportional to the size of the glass that you are using.

It’s time professional barmen embrace the garnish. It’s not a chore, its not an afterthought. The key to consistency is mis en place. If you cut your garnishes in advance of your shift (and keep them moist and fresh looking) you should be able to consistently kick out garnishes in volume. Of course if time permits, nothing makes a better impression than cutting a garnish fresh right in front of the guest.

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