D Tales 2015: Garnish 101


Cocktail Garnish - Overview - Nick Drinks Blog

Welcome to the first official D Tales 2015 post. This series of posts is in the spirit of Tales of the Cocktail happening now in New Orleans.

Here we will cover garnishes and specifically citrus ones which tend to be the most popular in bars. There are 6 types of this category of garnishes of those one will be covered at a later date.

The three main types of citrus are lemon, lime and orange. Occasionally bars will use grapefruit or even more exotic citrus like blood orange, pomelo, yuzu, etc.

There are rules of thumb for when to use of each type of citrus.

– Lemons are used for drinks with lemon juice and some drinks that are vodka-based such as bloody Mary, vodka tonic,  and long island iced tea. Rarely a lemon will pop-up on a beer.
– Limes are used in drinks that use lime juice and drinks that have rum, gin, tequila and some whiskey drinks. You’ll sometimes see a lime on Mexican beers.
– Oranges are used in drinks that contain orange juice and some drinks with whiskey as well as some beers.
– Tropical drinks can be a mix of all or some of these based on preference and visual appearance.

Cocktail Garnish Wedge and Slice - Nick Drinks Blog

Wedges and Slices are common garnishes and these are found in all types of bars from neighborhood pubs up to your high end craft bars. Wedges are dual purpose as they are also used to tailor your drink to your liking. If it is too sweet, hit it with the wedge for more acid.

Wedges (on the left) are made by cutting about 1/8″-1/4″ of each “pointy” end of the citrus (the stem and opposite it). The goal is to just expose the fruit inside and past the pith (white part). For limes, cut them in half long ways then split into 3 wedges (again long ways) for each half. For lemons, split into 4 wedges per half and oranges 4-6 depending on size. You don’t want too big of a garnish so use your judgment. Keep it the size of a small lighter. Cut a slit half way down the middle of the inner fruit so it can sit on the rim of a drink.

Slices (on the right) are just half of a wheel which we will explain below.

Cocktail Garnish Wheels - Nick Drinks Blog

Wheels are not as common as they used to be as they are quite big. There are two different thicknesses based on their application. 1/4″ in thickness with a slit half way up is great to add to a rim of a glass. While 1/8″ or thinner, is perfect to place inside a glass between the ice which holds it in place. This creates an attractive pattern insider your glass (use 3-6 depending on how big it is).

Start like you are cutting wedges by cutting off each end. Then slice full rounds of the fruit to your desired thickness. Remember to add a slit if you are using it for a rim garnish.

Cocktail Garnish Twists - Nick Drinks Blog

Swaths are extremely common in craft bars and add a burst of citrus right to the top of a finished drink. This leads to a powerful aroma on the first few sips of a cocktail.

My favorite way to make these is with a vegetable peeler. Start near an end of the fruit and peel down to the other end stopping about half way. Don’t peel too deep. The goal is to get as little of the pith as possible. Pinch the swath, skin down, over the drink and a spray of oils should express. The fresher the fruit, the more oil. If the fruit is old, you will struggle to get any peel off.

Alternatively, you can use a sharp knife to carve a round of swath. This works the same way but is harder to avoid pith, if you are unskilled with a knife.

Once you get good expressing the oils, try doing it with one hand. After you get good at that, practice spraying the oils over a lighter or match for a nice burst of flame over the drink. This leaves a rich caramelized/smokey flavor to the top of the drink.

An old fashioned is way better with just a swath and none of that muddled cherry and orange mumbo jumbo. Orange is awesome, lemon is good too.

Twists and Spirals are tricky to do with a pairing knife but easy to do with a channel knife. The trick is to not cut too deep and expose a lot of pith. My examples above are too pithy. For a twist cut about 3 inches with the channel knife starting at one end of the fruit and working down in a circle. For a spiral do this for 6-8 inches (or the whole thing). Most times this type of garnish will loose it’s shape. Twist it around a skewer and hold it for 30 – 60 seconds. This will help firm up the shape.

Zest is sometimes used in cocktails but one must be careful it is used sparingly. The strands of peel are not pleasant in the mouth and are hard to avoid when they are so small. You can sprinkle a few on top of a foam or whip but resist to drop a heap on there. I recommend a zesting tool. They do make combo zesting/channel knives but they are often made for right handed people only.

Boats & Flags are the final type of citrus garnish and very from the complex to the simple. I’ll cover these more in-depth in a future post.