“Your cocktail is only as good as your worst ingredient.” — So says
Liquor mixologist Tripper Duval during a recent cocktail-making
class at Mason Street Grill.
Whether you’re shaking up a Wisconsin old-fashioned using Granny’s
favorite recipe or stirring up a Manhattan with an expensive
bourbon, the garnish matters. Here are seven
ways to up your garnish game.
Marinate the garnishes in bitters.
Duval suggests buying some Filthy Onions (from Filthy Foods) and
marinating them in Bittercube orange bitters. “Now the onions take
on the flavor of the bitters, and if you make the drink with the
bitters, it just gets better,” Duval says.
2. Try a spice
blend rub for the rim, like Halo del Santo spirited cocktail garnish
made by former Milwaukeean Scott Hackler.
crushed blend of lime, chiles and salt wakes up a margarita or a
paloma, and Hackler also makes a line of spicy lollipops, which can
garnish drinks too. “It’s nice to have a halo floating above a good
drink, just like a halo floats above the head of a good person,”
says Hackler, who is looking to distribute his rim garnish and
spicy, Mexican-style lollipops in Milwaukee, but currently sells
through his website, halodelsanto.com.
3. Use a
stencil and bitters to create art on top of an egg white or creamy
coffee cocktail, much like the way baristas decorate coffee drinks.
“I’ve even seen a bar in Seattle, Canon, use an
edible printer to create garnishes,” Duval says.
4. Swap out those
neon-red maraschino cherries for something better.
Luxardo cherries or Amarena cherries. Many mixologists consider
Luxardo the caviar of cocktail cherries, but if you want something
that’s a step above the neon, but not as expensive, try Amarena
cherries. One brand of dark,
Duval recommends is from Filthy Foods, which makes a solid line of
garnishes; you can find them at Pick ’n Save, he says.
5. Stuff blue
cheese into your olives.
Pick up the pitted olives of your choice — perhaps at
the olive bar behind the cheese counter at Larry’s Market — and then
stuff them with blue cheese, or maybe blue cheese and bacon. A good
blue cheese to stuff would be The Blue Jay, made by Wisconsin’s Deer
Creek Cheese, as it’s made with juniper berries and would be perfect
for any gin-based martinis or cocktails.
6. Dry up some
fruit in your food dehydrator.
Take a bit of dried pineapple, then attach it to the
rim with a little paper clip, as beverage director Adam Sarkis does
at the Phoenix Cocktail Club. Or just toss a dehydrated lime wheel
into a daiquiri. “The whole reason we started doing
is that it’s a super sustainable way of providing a garnish,” says
Sarkis. “All that fruit that bars cut up before each shift … half of
it gets thrown away each night because it’s not fresh the next day.
Also, since our drinks have the proper amount of citrus in them, if
you squeeze a lime into the drink, it will throw the flavors off
completely.” Some cocktails do require an orange peel garnish, so
after all the peel is removed, Sarkis will dehydrate orange slices,
which then are perfect for slushie drinks. He’s also dehydrated beet
slices, which then change the color of the drinks they’re added to.
If you don’t want to dehydrate the fruit yourself,
Outpost Natural Foods sells dehydrated pineapple, and Trader Joe’s
sells dried — and candied or spiced — mandarin oranges and mangoes.
7. Freeze your
own ice — or soda or juice — and then use the ice as a garnish.
“We had cut our own ice so that when we freeze it, we
can control the direction of the impurities and cut away the cloudy
part,” Sarkis says. “Crystal-clear cubes are their own garnish for a
drink because you have this beautiful, diamond-looking cube in your