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Cocktails & Garnish: A Delicate Art

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Words by Eric Azran, .

Ever heard that saying, "less is more?" It's a rule we generally try to employ when we think about garnishing a drink. Garnishing a well-made drink is definitely important, as long as you remember that can sometimes mean no garnish at all, as there's a slippery slope on the other side. Though typically decorative and fun, garnish should ultimately serve some purpose — it should be functional! Whether it's to enhance a certain aroma, or just give the drinker some control over the taste, it should never distract from the overall experience. Nothing is more annoying than trying to drink a Mojito with a giant bouquet of mint and a small umbrella stuck up your nose. Here are a few quick tips to get you started.

Look in the Mirror

Sometimes the easiest solution is the best solution. When trying to find the right garnish for a new drink you just came up with, find something that looks or smells similar. There's a reason we often find citrus wedges or zests with our cocktails — the rich oils and aromas enhance the flavours in countless recipes! Got a floral cocktail? Try a small dried flower or rosebud. Using egg whites to create foam? Garnish with a few drops of bitters that fit the flavour profile of your recipe. If all else fails, most recipes look just as good with no garnish whatsoever. We tend to always have some fresh citrus and brandied cherries on hand because they tend to pair with a huge variety of drinks.

Have the Right Tools

You'll have a hard time preparing your garnishes without a few standard bar and kitchen tools. After you've washed anything that's been handled, it's always useful to have a nice y-peeler, cutting board, and paring knife nearby. We find that a y-peeler (or potato peeler) is most effective for getting nice and even pith-free citrus zests. These are what you'll be expressing over the edges of your Old Fashioned and Sazerac. If you're not too handy around the kitchen (like me) it might be a challenge with just a knife. Having a nice sharp paring knife is useful for everything else, like for cucumber and fleshy fruit slices. With some nice bamboo skewers or toothpicks, you'll be all set.

Come Clean

A wise man once told me that the easiest way to dress up a drink is with some clean garnish. Sure a nicely peeled zest will look great, but not as great as it would once you trim the edges into a nice strip or trapezoid. It's a little hack that takes about 10 seconds longer, but elevates the overall look and feel of your drink. Again, it's all about context - some drinks look better a bit roughed up, so don't forget to consider the recipe, its ingredients, and the glassware it will be served in.