Have you ever found yourself in a restaurant lounge or sitting at the bar at your local watering hole, and glanced up to notice the wide range of toppings properly upholster the workspace of the bar?
Besides being your (raw) friend’s personal watering hole, is there a purpose to all those colorful, sometimes elaborate trimmings? Well, let’s take a little deep dive and find out! So get your friend’s hand out of that cup of olives and let’s explore the world of cocktail garnishes.
THE VARIOUS VIEWS ON COCKTAIL GARNITURE
First, we must recognize that – as with many topics in the world of bartending – the subject of toppings is riddled with subjectivity and stubborn opinions: the elitist can tell you that a topping is only acceptable when she adds to the overall flavor of the cocktail.
Meanwhile, some purists may say that a a truly balanced mixed drink requires no toppings so that the customer does not have the possibility of ruining the perfect balance of flavors.
Then you have your anarchists, fists to the sky, stains of blue Curacao still encrusted on “this week’s” work shirt, with cries of “to hell with it!” bellowing from their chests as they stabilized that final slider atop the product-laden skyscraper adorning what some would call a “Bloody Mary.”
(And you know what? You do, my friend! You light that sparkler in your AMF…Cheers!)
So what is right? Is there any of them good answer at all? Well, this is where subjectivity becomes a factor because, truth be told, there is no RIGHT answer; it can almost entirely be condensed to personal preference. Do you like fun drink toppings? Cool. Do you prefer the aesthetics of plain drinks? Cool too!
THE VISUAL APPEAL OF TRIM
Now if you had asked me 5 years ago I might have been closer to the elitist in thinking that a trim was just a useless decoration unless it had a certain functionality when paired with a delicious cocktail.
As I grew up and my own stubborn biases waned (but perhaps not completely disappeared), I came to understand that the “fashion” of cocktail garnish can in makes its “function” be.
In the age of social media, having a online presence can work wonders for small businesses, especially those that may not have the financial resources for elaborate marketing.
In this scenario, who’s to say they’re wrong to throw a few extra orchids on the rim of a glass in order to create a more memorable cocktail and therefore get that geotag on your story… and so free promotion?
“First taste is with the eyes” has always been a cliché in the bar industry, but there’s a lot of truth to it. most visual appeal is a drink, the more likely our own personal biases will be in favor of it. (Even if we don’t like the drink, we’re more likely to consume it if it looks “fancy” or has some mind-blowing effect.)
To clarify, there’s nothing wrong with having a trim with functionality as well; in fact, that’s how most of them were born: as cocktail “accents”, if you will. Nothing is worth it aroma of a freshly zested orange zest on top of a old-fashioned or the shine, citrus bite to squeeze some extra lime juice into your Daiquiri.
LET’S TALK HISTORY: HOW COCKTAIL TODDINGS ARE DEVELOPED OVER TIME
Now, in order to better grasp the purpose of a garnish, we’ll have to take a little trip back to the mid-19th century, when someone (whose name you might know) was mixing cocktails across the United States. states and creating a phenomenon along the way.
Jerry “Professor” Thomasknown to many in the modern bar scene as “the father of American mixology”, combined his creativity with his showmanship transforming the act of serving drinks into the art and spectacle that the craft cocktail bartender is today, creating the birth of the classic garnish.
Although the exact origin of the use of fruit and citrus to garnish cocktails may have been lost among forgotten memories of over a century of late nights (and often longer mornings), it is still made mention of garnished cocktails in Jerry Thomas’ 1862 reprint of Bartender’s Guide.
While Jerry Thomas’ bartending style would probably be closer to TGI Friday “flair-bartending” by today’s standards (look for a Cocktail Blue Blazer), it was this energy and excitement that sparked interest in mixology and opened people’s minds to the potential of what bartending could be.
Along with his affinity for bottle juggling and extravagant jewelry, Thomas strived to elevate every cocktail he presented to his guests. Each beverage served became an exotic beverage accompanied by a whole mansion of fruits and berries adorning the rim of the glass or punch bowl your concoction was served in. (Think about early edible arrangements but with alcohol… Hey, maybe on something over there!)
In the beginning, most fillings were made only from foodstuffs; it was not until after Prohibition, with the introduction of tiki crazethat the trim game has been taken to a whole new level of extravagance in addition to those tropical drinks.
(However, it should be noted that at the time it was not considered “tacky” or “over the top” to have an overly elaborate garnish gushing out from the rim of your glass, but rather a luxury or status symbol.)
POPULAR TOPPINGS TO ENHANCE YOUR COCKTAIL PRESENTATION
OK, let’s say you’re going to go ahead and add a garnish or four to your cocktail glass. Here are some of my favorite cocktail garnish ideas, from simple garnishes to really fun ideas for great garnishes.
Common cocktail garnishes:
- Citrus citrus twists or wedges
- Cocktail cherries (Get the good ones, not the bright red maraschino cherries.)
- Slices of fresh fruit (think a piece of pineapple, a piece of strawberry, a slice of orange, etc.)
- Chocolate chips
- Kosher salt or salt mix as an easy garnish for the rim
- Cherry tomatoes (for bloody mary)
- Classic cocktail garnishes like olives and cocktail onions for Martinis
- Simple herbs like a sprig of fresh mint
Fun toppings to enhance the consumer experience
LONG LIVE THE COCKTAIL TOPPING
Fast forward to modern times, and the garnish is still a staple of the American cocktail party. While the level of extravagance is always susceptible to the ebb and flow of social trends, those little lime wheels and purple orchids on a finished drink aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So, whether you’re on the side of the Elitists or the Purists, or wondering why we still talk about the lime slice on the side of your Gin and tonic instead of just drinking the dang stuff, you can rest assured that the little wedge of lime was placed there with a purpose.
Whether it’s adding a fresh citrus twist to your nightcap or boosting your follower count via a flashy filter, you can always count on garnishes to get the job done. So go get your cocktail skewers and get to the decor!