Episode 046 - The Art of the Garnish

Cotton Candy Garnish

What’s shakin, cocktail fans?

Today, we’ve got a really timely and important topic to discuss - garnishes.

Leeann Lavin.jpg

We were able to get in touch with cocktail author and garden designer Leeann Lavin, who is releasing a book very soon called Finishing Touches: The Art of Garnishing the Cocktail (published by Cider Mill Press). And she has a ton of great advice for those of you out there who are looking to up your garnish game.

You can follow Leeann on Instagram (@garden_glamour) or Twitter (@gardenglamour), or check out her numerous articles and blogs.

In this discussion with Leeann Lavin, some of the topics we cover include:

  • An expansive approach to thinking about the garnish - going beyond citrus twists and brandied cherries to include other flavors and objects - even jewelry.
  • The basic tools and techniques that will help you make great garnishes in your home
  • More thoughts on garnishing egg white drinks
  • How to read the trail of clues left behind by the history or ingredients of your cocktail to help develop innovative finishing touches of your own.
  • What to say to Leonardo DaVinci at a cocktail party
  • And much, much more

Featured Cocktail - The Pisco Sour

Today’s featured cocktail is the Pisco Sour. And I don’t want to give too much away, but this drink came up in conversation during the interview with Leeann because we started to discuss all the amazing garnish moves you can make with shaken drinks that contain egg whites.

To make a Pisco Sour, you’ll need:

  • 3 oz. Macchu Pisco
  • 3/4 oz. simple syrup (1:1) or 2 tsp. Sugar
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • fresh egg white (pasteurized if you like)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters

After you combine all these ingredients (minus the bitters) in a shaker with ice, you shake vigorously until you can really feel the consistency of the drink begin to change inside the shaker. This is partially a feeling in your hands, and it’s partially a more muted sound as the ice shrinks and becomes muffled by the froth in the drink.

Once you’re confident in the “shaken-ness” of your Pisco sour, you’ll want to strain this into a stemmed cocktail glass, and garnish with a few dashes of your Angostura bitters. If you use a little eyedropper, you can even make little designs that start to resemble latte art if you manipulate the drops with a toothpick before serving.

Show Notes

In this interview, we cover some of the basics you might want to have on-hand if you're looking to improve your garnish game. Here are a few notes to help you on your way.

Types of Garnishes

Orange Rose Garnish
  • Twists - Citrus peels, often expressed over the drink, and then either floated in the cocktaial, clipped to the side of the glass, or skewered on a cocktail pick.
  • Brandied Cherries - These are almost always for boozy, stirred drinks like the Manhattan, and they look great at the bottom of a Martini glass, or skewered in a row on a cocktail pick.
  • Herbs and Nosegays - A "nosegay" is a term that comes from the age where people didn't take baths, so they masked that with nice-smelling flowers. In a cocktail a bunch of herbs or a flower that you smell each time you take a sip of the drink can really heighten the experience of the cocktail.
  • Grated Spices - Perhaps the oldest garnish, harkening back to the days when nutmeg was freshly grated over punch, ground spices around the rim or directly on top of the cocktail really make for a sensual experience.
  • Edible Garnishes - Everything from celery in a Bloody Mary to the cocktail onion in a proper Gibson, edible garnishes are on the rise, and the sky is the limit.
  • Stenciled or Drawn Art - Usually on egg white drinks, this is an opportunity to get fancy. But it takes a lot of preparation and practice to get right!
  • Dehydrated Fruit - Especially beautiful with blood orange wheels, this is a fun DIY project you can do at home and then keep them at the ready for up to a week after dehydrating.
  • Flamed or Branded Garnishes - Fire is a great tool behind the bar. You can flame your expressed orange peel, toast a cinnamon stick, or even create a custom brand on your citrus twist (adult supervision required).
  • Objects - Not all garnishes need to be natural or edible. Part of the role of the garnish is to provide a bit of whimsy to the drink. If you can find a way to stage the cocktail so that it's more of a three dimensional experience, the world is your oyster. 
Cocktail with a spiced garnish floated on the egg white foam.

Cocktail with a spiced garnish floated on the egg white foam.

A Few Notes on Egg White Garnishes

The egg white foam on a shaken sour drink provides an excellent and sturdy canvass upon which to stage your garnish. Here are a couple options for exploiting this affordance.

  • Bitters Art - If you add a few carefully placed drops of bitters, or some other colorful liquid, you can create patterns akin to latte art in your egg white foam.
  • Floats - You can float heavier things on top of egg whites. Coffee beans are a perfect example, as well as any other very light flowers or herbs. Just make sure they're edible!

Lightning Round

Favorite Cocktail

The Duchess Martini:

  • 2 oz LIV Vodka
  • 1/2-3/4 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
  • Lemon Twist

If You Were a Cocktail Mixer or Ingredient, What Would You Be?

Simple Syrup. It's elegant, glamorous, and it's natural. But it also has such variety - you can have a different simple syrup every day of the week.

Da Vinci's study of water falling past objects. Also looks like human hair!

Da Vinci's study of water falling past objects. Also looks like human hair!

Cocktail with Any Person, Past or Present

Leonardo Da Vinci & Dorothy Parker at the Algonquin Club

Influential Cocktail Books

The Bartender's Guide to the Best Mixed Drinks (1953)

Advice for New Home Bartenders

Follow your heart and learn about cocktail culture. It's more than just the drink. It's a social art.

Then look at your ingredients, use the very best, do as little to them as possible, and make your drink visually attractive.