Do Not Overlook The Garnish!
"You eat first with your eyes, then your nose, and then your mouth."
Yeah, it's an old saying, but it's particularly germane this month. And, for the record, we couldn't agree more. As soon as a dish is served, you're assessing it without even knowing it. The crust on the steak, the vivid green of the broccoli, plump grains of rice through hot steam. You're tasting it with your eyes and nose before you ever actually taste it, and a good chef will have you loving the dish before it ever touches your tongue.
Just as it does for food, this holds true for cocktails as well. And this brings us to the garnish.
As bartenders, there's nothing that annoys us more than going to a bar and getting a slimy lemon or a gross, browning lime. There's honestly no better way to tell your customers that you don't care about what you're doing than that. Citrus wedges are basic, 101 stuff -- appropriate at times, but unimpressive in both sight and smell -- and if your bartender can't do that right, how are you supposed to trust them with an actual drink?
Every time we train a bar-staff, we hit this as hard as we can: garnishes should leap out of the glass. Their job -- their only job -- is to make the cocktail more appealing. The garnish should smell great, look even better, and get your mouth watering to drink that cocktail.
Most people think garnishes are just what's in those ugly plastic trays at sports bars: lemons, limes, oranges, olives, and cherries. The truth, obviously, is that anything can be a garnish, especially if you think of them as a way to enhance your aroma, or showcase your creativity, or both.
This month, we've got two unusual garnishes: a lavender sprig, which will add a lovely color and floral aroma, and candied citrus peels, because they're delicious, fun and look cool. We hope you find them captivating, and that they open your mind to ideas of what garnishes should -- and can -- be.
BONUS SIDE INFO: What's the coolest or craziest garnish you've ever seen? Bloody Marys are famous in this game, as are Tiki drinks. At one bar, Linwood Essentials in Toronto, we've seen a cocktail garnished with a love poem, attached to the rim of the glass with a miniature clothespin. It was amazing.
Neutral Grain Honey
Speaking of usual ingredients, what is Neutral Grain Honey?
This, like "single malt scotch," is a 3-word phrase in which each of the three words holds meaning. (1) Grain refers to the base ingredient from which the spirit was made. If it were grapes, it would be called "neutral grape," but it's grain (wheat, rye, corn, or barley). (2) Neutral is referring to the way it was distilled -- distilled to remove all aroma and flavor. This is the way all vodka is produced. And indeed, this would be vodka if it weren't for (3) honey, which means the distillers sweetened the spirit with honey.
So essentially, it's a honey sweetened vodka. And if you're thinking that sounds boring, so did Ellensburg Distillery, so they infused it with spices: vanilla, anise, angelica root, and a few more. It is like an 80 proof liqueur, except not sweet, and (if we say so ourselves) goes very nicely with pineapple and candied citrus peels.