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Modern Cocktail Garnishes For National Cocktail Day

March 24th is National Cocktail Day, a day we’re using to revisit cocktail garnishes. Many standard garnishes have been used since the advent of the particular cocktail—they’re what that first bartender used when he mixed the first Sazerac (America’s first cocktail) or Gin Fizz. We’ll look at them as well as modern cocktail garnishes.

Citrus garnishes, perhaps the most popular (or the most available), took different forms depending on the bartender: twist, slice, wedge, wheel. Still other garnishes have evolved to modern forms—blue cheese- and jalapeño-stuffed olives in a Martini, for example.

Here’s what you’d need for a retro cocktail party (we’ve included some new “classics” with the old).

> The world’s Top 10 most popular cocktails.

> The history of the cocktail.

  • Celery stick and Boody Mary
  • Lemon peel for a Sazerac
  • Lemon slice for a Sidecar
  • Lemon spiral for a Cosmopolitan, French 75, and Long Island Iced Tea
  • Lemon wedge for a Gin Fizz, Highball (any type of whiskey), and Paloma
  • Lime slice or wedge for a Daiquiri, Dark & Stormy, Gin & Tonic, Gin Rickey, Moscow Mule
  • Lime slice and salt rim for a Margarita, lime slice and sugar cane for a Capirinha
  • Lime wheel for a Gimlet
  • Maraschino cherry for a Manhattan (along with a lemon slice for a Tom Collins)
  • Mint leaves for a Mint Julep and Mojito
  • Mint leaves, cucumber slice, lemon or orange slice for a Pimm’s Cup
  • Olives for a Martini, cocktail onions for a Gibson (that’s a Martini that substitutes onions for olives)
  • Orange peel for a Negroni
  • Orange slice for an Aperol Spritz, Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour (for the latter you can add lemon a slice and Maraschino cherry),
  • Orange twist for a Sidecar
  • Pineapple spear for a Mai Tai and Piña Colada
  • Citrus for anything else: lemon, lime and orange slices and wedges

    Today, bartenders are called mixologists, and they’re expected to be creative in both new cocktail recipes and cocktail garnishes. Now, the garnish lineup can include:

  • Berries, cherries, grapes
  • Candied fruit, candied ginger, candied peel (recipe)
  • Coffee and chocolate accents: coffee beans, shaved chocolate, whipped cream
  • Cucumber ribbons (photo # 1) and slices
  • Dehydrated or grilled orange slices and other citrus
  • Edible flowers (photo #4)
  • Dill pickles/gherkins for Bloody Mary and Martini, plus dilly beans and other pickled vegetables
  • Exotic fruits: dragonfruit balls, gooseberries, starfruit
  • Foam
  • Ice cubes: flavored, with fruits or herbs (recipe)
  • Jalapeño or other chile, or a chile spice rim (photo #2)
  • Herbs: basil (photo #3), lavender, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
  • Flavored salts for rims, or other savory and sweet rims
  • Fruit wedges and balls (melon, papaya, pears, pineapple)
    Cocktail picks have evolved from holding 2 or 3 olives, cocktail onions or blueberries to skewers with sky-high combinations of cheese, gherkins, ham, shrimp and the more unusual, such as the Japanese California roll and dumplings atop a Bloody Mary in photo #5.

    Also see the mini cheeseburger Bloody Mary skewers in photo #7, below.

    Cocktails, as we know them today, have existed since the early 1800s. A reader wrote to “The Balance and Columbian Repository,” a newspaper in Hudson, New York, asking “What is a cocktail?”

    The reply, published in the May 13, 1806 edition: “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters—it is vulgarly called bittered sling….”

    The first published bartenders’ guide with cocktail recipes was “How to Mix Drinks; or, The Bon Vivant’s Companion,” by “Professor” Jerry Thomas, in 1862. In addition to recipes for “cocktails,” there are cobblers, flips, punches, shrubs, slings, and toddies. Bitters was a key ingredient that differentiated cocktail recipes.

    Bitters are combinations of herbs, fruits, spices and/or roots, distilled in a base liquor. As with spirits, they began as medicinal tonics. Classic cocktails with bitters include the Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned, Pisco Sour, Rob Roy, Rum Swizzle, Sazerac, and Singapore Sling. The recent renaissance in artisan bitters has led to more of their use in new creations.


    [1] This Aperol Spritz still has the orange slice, but tops the cocktail with a cucumber ribbon (photo © Nerai Restaurant | NYC).

    [2] A Tajin spice rim and jalapeños add some spice to a sweet cocktail (photo © STK | Los Angeles).

    [3] Fresh herbs are beautiful and aromatic. Look in farmers markets for flowering herbs, like this purple basil (photo © Sid Wainer & Sons).

    [4] Edible flowers scattered on a frozen Margarita (photo © Discover California Wines).

    [5] This Bloody Mary garnish serves as an appetizer as well, with a slice of California roll and some gyoza dumplings (photo © Campbell Soup Company).

    The leading claim to the first cocktail party goes to Mrs. Julius S. Walsh Jr. of St. Louis, Missouri. In May 1917, she invited 50 guests to her home at noon on a Sunday. The cocktail reception lasted an hour, and lunch was served at 1 p.m.

    While the record is mum on the subject, the cocktail event may have followed the Sunday church service. Now there’s an idea ready for revival: church followed by cocktails with friends

    [6] Serving cocktails in wine glasses makes it easy to show off multiple garnishes (photo © Pasta Eater | NYC).

    [7] How about a pair of mini bacon cheeseburgers atop your Bloody Mary (photo © Johnsonville Foodservice).




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