No Lazy Garnishes

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Photo by My Aching Head/FlickrCC


Just a few weeks ago, I prevailed upon you to keep your hands off the garnishes. My only other rule of garnishes is this: if you're going in my drink, you've got to do something—no lazy garnishes. And for the garnish to do something, it follows that it must be fresh. The lemon must be capable of delivering acid. If it's an olive, it must have a sufficient briny zing without spores of mold collecting on top.

You see, when I started bartending, the rundown of the garnish tray was something like this:

Thin, dry lemon peels. Check.
Festering pool of olives. Check.
Bright red, sugary cherries. Check.
Lime wedges, brown or otherwise. Check.
Lemon wedges, kept up to three days. Check.

My latest obsession has been viewing what can be categorized as nothing less than garnish pornography.

If you wanted to resuscitate a garnish, you'd spray a little water on it, much like they do at a grocery store to make the arugula look fresher. Fortunately, I started to take pity on those dry little twists and mold-soaked olives and decided freshly cut citrus and well-preserved olives were tastier, more visually pleasing and, well, less likely to be poisonous.

Since my revelation, I have seen a renaissance in garnishes from large swaths of fresh citrus peel to bacon. Yes, I said bacon. Yet my latest obsession has been viewing what can be categorized as nothing less than garnish pornography, Kae Sa Luk. The Japanese have a similar penchant for fruit and vegetable carving called mukimono.

Could this be the next wave in garnishing drinks? Not likely, as bartenders already bitch and moan about cutting orange "moons." But it is true that we "drink first with our eyes," and these sculptures are amazing.

Perhaps some bartenders will find a way to incorporate some of the simpler, edible designs. You'll need some knives, and Sur la Table offers the garnish kit to end all garnish kits. Although after much deliberation, I intend to start with a simple paring knife and avoid the 80-piece set. Good luck, and hopefully I can share some work with you in the future.

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Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He sits on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail. More

Derek Brown is a writer, illustrator, bartender, and co-owner of acclaimed bars The Passenger and Columbia Room in Washington, D.C. He travels throughout the country and around the world in search of great drinks, and the stories behind them. Derek's methodical approach to cocktails was profiled in the Wall Street Journal's "A Master of Mixological Science" and his martini lauded as the best in America by GQ. He's been in numerous media outlets featuring his approach to better drinking, including CNN, The Rachel Maddow Show and FOX. Derek is a founding member of the D.C. Craft Bartender's Guild and on the board of directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.
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