Ask drinkplanner proper garnishment

Ask DrinkPlanner is a reoccurring feature here where readers submit their questions, and the crack team at DrinkPlanner does our best to answer. Got a question about booze? Ask us!

“Dear DrinkPlanner,

Talk to me about garnishes for drinks.  I know you’re not into “fruiting up” a drink, with which I agree.  No point making a drink and then covering up the flavor with something you’d normally just eat.  However, I do believe that many garnishes enhance the flavor of the drinks you add them to.  There are the old classics, like an olive with a martini, a lime with a margarita, etc.  But I’m interested to know if there are other garnishes out there I could be using with my drinks to give them superior flavor.


Aching to Adorn”

Many a drink benefits from being gussied up by some piece of fruit or vegetable or whatever the hell.  Each blends and mixes with the alcohol in a different way, and the relationship between alcohol and garnish is a meaningful one, if done properly.  Let’s break them down by species and see what’s what.

Before we get going though, there are two exceptions to the game:

First: Vodka.  Vodka tastes like nothing, has very little character and exists primarily to add alcohol to a drink and to absorb and take on whatever flavor it’s mixed with.  Want your vodka to taste like lime?  Put lime in it.  Want it to taste like celery?  Stick a stalk in there.  Want it to taste like Cheese Whiz?  You know what to do.

Second: Lime.  Lime seems to pair up with just about every primary spirit out there, outside of your slow-sipped darker alcohols like whiskey* and cognacs and the like.  Tequila, rum, vodka, gin…lime works well with all of them.  When in doubt, it’s the go-to garnish.

1. Fruit – There are two primary liquors that mix well with fruit flavors and garnish: Rum and Tequila.  Not to say that one thing never intercedes with the other and so on, but PRIMARILY, fruit garnishes Rum and Tequila best.  That’s why these are typically the two primary liquors in tiki drinks and the like, the flavors just work well together and when you’re on the beach or grilling on the back deck, throwing the appropriate type of fruit in your drink is a fresh addition to your beverage.  You will notice that I said “appropriate”.  When drinking, let “appropriate” be your watchword, be it location, occasion, type of drink, and yes…garnish.  Is it appropriate to have a twist of lemon over your martini or a slice of lime with your gin and tonic at a business lunch?  YES.  Is it appropriate to order a tiki drink garnished with pineapple and cherries and served inside a coconut and set ablaze in front of a prospective business client?  Only if that prospective client runs a gay Hawaiian circus.  Otherwise, keep yourself in check and wait until your vacation to indulge in a Tikidookie Kahunasplosion.

The #3 image when Google searching “gay Hawaiian circus”.  Bahahahaha!

2. Vegetables – This includes olives, onions, celery, and everything in between.  For the most part, you’re going to see this with gin and vodka drinks.  The botanicals used to change vodka into gin lend themselves to vegetal garnish, as the floral components echo the same flavor sentiments.  Some specifically so…Hendrick’s gin is frigging fantastic with a slice of cucumber.  The specific botanical blend they use really lends itself to the cool mild flavors of cucumber and for realz it sounds stupid to stick cucumber in gin, but I’m telling you it works.  The Bloody Mary is another drink that stands up well with a fresh stalk of celery poking right up out of it.  Those vegetal earthy flavors swirl and combine into a perfect morning-drink stew, and celery  (the vodka of vegetables!) is the perfect thing to soak up all those savory flavors.

3. Spices – Often relegated to holiday or special occasion drinks, spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper, and of course mint shouldn’t be underestimated.  Whether applied to the rim, in the case of salt or sugar, or muddled and crushed into oblivion like mint in a mojito, these garnishes can be critical components to many classic drinks.  Often overlooked in the world of garnish, these integral components add that slight flavor alteration that many drinks wouldn’t be known for without them.

A word about Beer: There are several beers that use citrus fruits as a garnish.  What I will say on the subject is this:  there is a difference between using a fruit that complements the flavors of your beer and using a fruit to cover up the flavors of your beer.  Ever tried Corona without a lime?  That’s what I thought.  So if you can’t figure out the difference…may God have mercy on your soul.

So there we go.  What was your question?   I blanked out after “garnish”.  Oh well.  Have a booze-related question?  Ask DrinkPlanner!

*True story: I was at a Glenlivet (a fantastic single malt scotch) tasting and was sitting at the bar with my brother-in-law enjoying all the high-quality free hooch and saw one or two people asking that their 15 yr old single malt scotch whisky be mixed with diet coke and garnished with a limeGAH! I simultaneously shit myself, my brain exploded, and I took a hostage and demanded the desecrated bodies of several high-ranking government officials.

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