Why Garnish a Cocktail?

We garnish a cocktail to complete its taste and presentation! The last step of many classic and contemporary cocktail recipes is to add a citrus peel, fruit wedge, maraschino cherry, onion, or olive. This garnish adds a bit of variety to the drink’s appearance while also subtly changing its taste and smell.

Like many other elements of cocktail history, the exact origin of garnishing libations is unknown. It’s thought that traditional juleps and cobblers, two classes of drinks popular a couple centuries back, might have been responsible for their introduction, but even that’s not clear.

Peel back

We do know that the first surviving reference to citrus peel garnishes appears in Jerry Thomas’s 1862 Bartender’s Guide. However, he doesn’t explain the technique, so it’s safe to assume that it was a common practice by that time.

It’s easy to see why—on a chemical level, most of the scent compounds that characterize an individual citrus fruit are stored in its skin, not in its juice. As a result, twisting a piece of peel over a drink releases these aromatic oils. Since any flavor experience is made up of a combination of taste and smell, this garnish adds a citrusy tang.

At this point, another debate begins: Should the peel be dropped into the drink or into the trash? By dropping it in, any pesticides, wax, or dust gathered on the fruit’s skin is introduced to the drink. Further, any pith left attached to the garnish will introduce bitter compounds into the drink that can change its flavor.

Luckily, most of these problems can be avoided by gently washing the fruit in warm water before use. Leaving this type of garnish in the drink allows a tiny amount of oil to dissolve in the alcohol. The rest will slowly rise to the top, giving the drink more complex layers of flavor.

Cherries and onions and olives, oh my!

Using cherries in cocktails dates back to the 1800s. Originally, maraschino cherries were Croatian marasca cherries preserved in maraschino liqueur. The expense and hassle of importing these tiny fruits was exorbitant, so producers began substituting local cherries and other liqueurs to cut back on costs. By the start of Prohibition, chemicals had replaced the liqueur entirely.

Cherries add hints of sweetness to traditional cocktails. If you don’t have any on hand, try substituting a dash of maraschino liqueur or simple syrup to balance your drink.

In contrast, cocktail olives and onions add a hint of salt to different classic beverages. Though their origin is murky, a substitution for their presence is not. If you’re not a fan but find yourself with an unbalanced tipple, try adding a drop or two of salt tincture.

Hit the Lab

The Horse’s Neck is the only cocktail known to be named for its garnish. When made correctly, the peel of a whole lemon should twist around the drink’s other elements which drinkers of yore thought resembled the curves of a horse’s neck.

Interestingly, this drink first appears in George Kappeler’s 1895 Modern American Drinks as a nonalcoholic beverage. Here, the recipe called only for a lemon peel and imported ginger ale. As time passed, drinkers added whiskey or brandy and called it the Horse’s Neck With A Kick. This version became more popular than the original and eventually usurped its name.

For people drinking at home, the biggest challenge in building this cocktail is the garnish. Some experimentation may be necessary to place it perfectly.

Horse’s Neck

2 oz whiskey (preferably bourbon)
4 oz ginger ale
Whole lemon peel for garnish

Pour ingredients into a highball glass over ice. Garnish with a whole lemon peel.

James Duong, AFP/Getty Images
The Latest Way to Enjoy Pho in Vietnam: As a Cocktail
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images

Pho is something of a national dish in Vietnam. The noodle soup, typically topped with beef or chicken, can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. There’s even a version of it for happy hour, as Lonely Planet reports.

The pho cocktail, served at Nê Cocktail Bar in Hanoi, contains many of the herbs and spices found in pho, like cinnamon, star anise, cilantro, and cardamom. Without the broth or meat, its taste is refreshingly sweet.

The drink's uniqueness makes it a popular choice among patrons, as does the dramatic way it's prepared. The bartender pours gin and triple sec through the top of a tall metal apparatus that contains three saucers holding the spices. He then lights the saucers on fire with a hand torch as the liquid flows through, allowing the flavors to infuse with the alcohol as the drink is filtered into a pitcher below.

The pho cocktail
James Duong, AFP/Getty Images

Pham Tien Tiep, who was named Vietnam’s best bartender at the Diageo Reserve World Class cocktail competition in 2012, created the cocktail six years ago while working at the famous French Colonial-era hotel the Sofitel Legend Metropole Hanoi, according to AFP. He has since brought his signature drink to several of the stylish bars he owns in Vietnam’s capital, including Nê Cocktail Bar.

Initially, he set out to create a drink that would represent Vietnam’s culture and history. “I created the pho cocktail at the Metropole Hotel, just above the war bunkers where the American musician Joan Baez sang to the staff and guests in December 1972 as bombs fell on the city,” Tiep told Word Vietnam magazine. “The alcohol in the cocktail is lit on fire to represent the bombs, while spices, such as chili and cinnamon, reflect the warmness of her voice.”

Tiep has a reputation for infusing his drinks with unusual local ingredients. He has also created a cocktail that features fish sauce, a popular condiment in Vietnam, and another that contains capsicum, chili, and lemongrass in an ode to the bo luc lac (shaking beef) dish, according to CNN.

[h/t Lonely Planet]

Just 5 Alcoholic Drinks a Week Could Shorten Your Lifespan

Wine lovers were elated when a scientific study last year suggested that drinking a glass of wine a day could help them live longer. Now a new study, published in The Lancet, finds that having more than 100 grams of alcohol a week (the amount in about five glasses of wine or pints of beer) could be detrimental to your health.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the British Heart Foundation studied the health data of nearly 600,000 drinkers in 19 countries and found that five to 10 alcoholic drinks a week (yes, red wine included) could shave six months off the life of a 40-year-old.

The penalty is even more severe for those who have 10 to 15 drinks a week (shortening a person’s life by one to two years), and those who imbibe more than 18 drinks a week could lose four to five years of their lives. In other words, your lifespan could be shortened by half an hour for every drink over the daily recommended limit, according to The Guardian, making it just as risky as smoking.

"The paper estimates a 40-year-old drinking four units a day above the guidelines [the equivalent of drinking three glasses of wine in a night] has roughly two years' lower life expectancy, which is around a 20th of their remaining life," David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at the University of Cambridge who was not involved with the study, tells The Guardian. "This works out at about an hour per day. So it's as if each unit above guidelines is taking, on average, about 15 minutes of life, about the same as a cigarette."

[h/t The Guardian]


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