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What's Really Necessary for a Good Drink?


Nathan
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ok, although when I'm paying $12-20 for a cocktail in a bar I certainly expect the full panoply of garnishes, fresh juices and house-made syrups or ginger beer or what have you...

at home I tend to skip garnishes except for the basic lemon or orange twist when I'm making drinks for guests...for myself, I don't even bother. and for things like the licorice stick in a Le Demon Vert I never bother...

it seems to me that garnishes rarely add any flavor to a cocktail..they're purely for visual appeal...necessary in a cocktail lounge setting but not for home use.

obviously I make my own simple syrup since it takes about ten seconds and even my own grenadine (which takes ten minutes), and I'll squeeze lemons and limes (although I keep bottled juice on hand for backup) but for the rest of syrups and juices and ginger beer -- it seems like I can find quality commercial versions here in NY.

is there some reason that I'm missing as to why I should really be doing these at home? obviously there's a continuum here...I'm sure that very few people bother to make orange flower water at home for their Ramos Fizz -- I just buy it at Dean & Deluca...but is this really that different from buying Reed's Extra Ginger Beer as well? (although I'm sure Audrey Saunders would shoot me for it if she knew that I make her Gin-Gin Mule with it)

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At home, I rarely add garnishes that don't add flavor or scent to a cocktail, unless I'm trying to tart up a picture for the internet.

Never added black licorice to a Le Demon Vert. I am thinking of serving that cocktail at a party this weekend and am slightly tempted to pick up some of those individually wrapped licorice root sticks...

In my opinion, skipping the lemon, orange or lime twist, though, is a big mistake.

With a lot of cocktails, that spritz of essential oils can be the difference between an OK cocktail, and one to contemplate.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Juice garnishes (lemon/lime/orange wedges) exist because bartenders are no mind readers, so sometimes the sweetness/sourness of a drink needs tweaking after it's been made to suit one's personal taste. Since at home the bartender and the drinker are the same, these aren't needed.

Twists and dashes (outside of bitters and heavy liqueurs used for flavoring like Pernod or maraschino) are for aroma. With familiar drinks this can sometimes be dispensed with, but a pleasant aroma almost always adds to the drink. I'd leave those in.

In the right environment, purely visual garnishes can connect the drink to the place, which enhances the experience. But outside of those circumstances, they're really not so important.

"Pleasant surprise" style garnishes like the cherry at the bottom of a Manhattan are of course unneccesary if one isn't a fan of pleasant surprises. :) I'd say however that the olive in a well-made wet Martini is a special case. To me, the salty pungent flavor of the olive is the slap in the face that snaps me out of the meditative state I often slip into contemplating the flavor/not flavor born of gin and vermouth. :biggrin:

If there's a quality commercial version of a syrup and the price is right, there's nothing wrong with using it. People turn to homemade when the commercial versions leave something to be desired, are difficult to find, or are prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, though, having knowledge of syrup-making can be very helpful when you're feeling creative.

As for ginger beer, the one issue with Reeds is that it is sweetened with things like pineapple juice and honey instead of a cleaner sweetener like sugar. This isn't really a problem in most drinks, but it's still good to have a cleaner alternative for those rare exceptions where the pineapple-honey backflavors clash with the drink. This doesn't necessarily need to be home-made ginger beer, but the commercial ginger beer selection can be rather limited/nonexistent in some areas.

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Re: Cherries and Olives.

The two most essential cocktails in all of drinkdom, each with a highly canonical garnish. And I never use either (unless it is for a guest who requests it, or of course if at work). The reason was touched on recently in a Cocktail Chronicles writeup: Why go to all that trouble to perfectly fine-tune and balance this magnificent and delicate combination of spirits, wine, and bitters only to drop some mass-produced highly processed gob of blah into it, destroying this careful balance with sweet syrup or salty brine? For me, a heavy twist of lemon suffices in both of these.

Also, I don't like olives ;)

-Andy

Edit for clarity

Edited by thirtyoneknots (log)

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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At home, I keep it basis, too. Lemon or lime peels (as appropriate), and cherries. I don't like olives.

The ginger beer thing, though, I might have bought that until I discovered Audrey Saunder's recipe. Here's a link to a thread a started about it.

This stuff puts the finest ginger beers to shame!

Marty McCabe

Boston, MA

Acme Cocktail Company

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By the way, cherries are another thing I never bothered with until I tried Amarena Toschi cherries in syrup.

Boy, they are tasty! And the little bit of syrup that clings to them adds a very nice flavor to the end of a manhattan. Definitely a pleasant surprise. Look for them at Italian specialty stores and delis.

Other options that might change your mind about the whole cherry thing include making your own (link to egullet topic), the legendary luxardo cherries, or the french cherries in cognac.

Speaking of garnishes, though, what are those thin green things with a loop at one end that some bars use to spear their cherries and olives? Are they available for normal people to buy? Or do bars make them?

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Speaking of garnishes, though, what are those thin green things with a loop at one end that some bars use to spear their cherries and olives?  Are they available for normal people to buy?  Or do bars make them?

If you mean the the bamboo toothpicks that have a knot tied at the top they use at Pegu, they can be found in various kitchen supply stores in Chinatown (NYC). Not that I've ever got looking for them...

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thanks guys for your advice.

it sounds like twists are often worthwhile (though something tells me that this is less true after the third, let alone the sixth, cocktail)...though I'm not sure that this is always so (does a martini need a lemon twist when it already has orange bitters?)....but that other garnishes are basically for adornment. and that there's nothing wrong with good commercial products...

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Garnishes

I'm unlikely to use a garnish that doesn't add any flavor to the drink. But many of them do ad something appreciable.

I actually find that twist garnishes make a big difference. I'm not saying I use them every time at home, because that depends on whether I have citrus of sufficient freshness (the peel tends to lose its pizzazz before the juice inside). But a big twist of lemon makes a huge difference in, say, a Sazerac, Martini or Old Fashioned.

Like other posters, I am less likely to use an olive or cocktail onion. I'm also not overly fond of cherries, so even though I have a big jar of homemade maraschino cherries, I don't use them very often. I do like the Luxardo cherries, though, so I may find myself using more cherry garnishes if I ever get around to buying some.

Juices

There's no substitute for fresh juices, in my opinion. I've got an Orange-X mid-size professional juicer in permanent residence on my kitchen counter, and squeeze citrus juice to order. If I don't have any fresh citrus around, I don't make citrus cocktails.

Other juices, such as pineapple juice, are inconvenient to keep around fresh and the canned versions seem perfectly acceptable.

Syrups

Just like anything else, high quality syrups can make a difference. I make and keep on hand most of the syrups that are shelf-stable. This includes things like 1:1 white simple, 2:1 demerara simple, 2:1 lime-infused syrup (I mix this 1:1 with fresh lime juice to order for a friend who loves gimlets), 4:1 light cane syrup and homemade grenadine. I've been meaning to pick up some gum arabic at Kalustyan's and make real gomme syrup to see what that's like.

I have made other syrups, such as spice or ginger-infused syrup, but I haven't been thrilled with their shelf stability. The flavors seem to dull fairly quickly. This is especially true with something like a cold infused or hot-then-cold infused ginger syrup. It doesn't take too long for the syrup to lose its zip.

I'm also not afraid to use good commercial syrups where they exist and when making the syrup at home is not a simple task (I would never pay for simple syrup or cane syrup). If I could buy decent grenadine in the store, I wouldn't bother making it myself. In my cocktail battery, this mostly means Al Wadi pomegranate molasses.

Homemade Ginger Beer, Ginger Juice, etc.

As others have pointed out, homemade ginger beer like the one Audrey uses at Pegu Club can make a huge difference. Ginger juice is also really nice in the right drink. However, they are also a real pain in the butt to make for home use. Because these products depend on volatile ginger compounds for much of their impact, they're not the sort of thing you can make and keep around for more than a day or two. I would make (and have) a big batch of Audrey's ginger beer if I were planning on pouring from a pitcherl of Gin Gin Mule at a party. But I'm unlikely to make it to order just so I can have two GGMs at home. I'll confess that I, too, have used commercial ginger beer in making this and other ginger drinks. But I'm always disappointed.

--

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re: shelf-life...

I've always wondered about that...

books tell you to keep your simple syrup refrigerated...

so I do...but invariably someone confuses it with water and dumps it (seriously!)

I'd rather just keep it behind the bar and the more I think about the more I think that simple syrup should keep just fine on the shelf for a month or so....what's the actual rationale for keeping it refrigerated?

(grenadine that hasn't been fortified I could see but sugar and water?)

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one other thing:

I agree of course with regard to squeezing lemons or limes whenever possible.

I used to agree on oranges.

Then I discovered bottled "Volcano Orange Juice" -- available at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. This is richer and more full-bodied than any orange juice you can squeeze at home. Try this in a Monkey Gland and it will be a revelation.

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re: shelf-life...

I've always wondered about that...

books tell you to keep your simple syrup refrigerated...

so I do...but invariably someone confuses it with water and dumps it (seriously!)

I'd rather just keep it behind the bar and the more I think about the more I think that simple syrup should keep just fine on the shelf for a month or so....what's the actual rationale for keeping it refrigerated?

(grenadine that hasn't been fortified I could see but sugar and water?)

No matter how careful you are with sanitation, things grow in Simple Syrup eventually, especially the 1-1 versions.

Adding a touch of alcohol and/or keeping them refrigerated helps lengthen their life. Though, I still don't find they last much longer than a month or two. I guess I just don't use that much of them. Probably because the Savoy Cocktail book tends to use liqueurs as sweeteners. Need to have more cocktail parties!

With proper sanitation, 2-1 syrups, on the other hand, seem to have a fairly indefinite shelf life in the fridge.

I keep the grenadine in the freezer. It turns into a kind of slushie; but, thaws quickly enough once you get it out and give it a couple shakes.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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one other thing:

I agree of course with regard to squeezing lemons or limes whenever possible.

I used to agree on oranges.

Then I discovered bottled "Volcano Orange Juice" -- available at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.  This is richer and more full-bodied than any orange juice you can squeeze at home.  Try this in a Monkey Gland and it will be a revelation.

I may just take a look at this. With the winter freeze destroying most of the current CA citrus crop, the rest of this year is going to be brutal for fresh citrus. I don't think I'll see much citrus at the farmer's market again until next year. I wonder if I'll even get a chance to make limoncello?

I expect we'll see this reflected in drink prices.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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re: shelf-life...

I've always wondered about that...

books tell you to keep your simple syrup refrigerated...

so I do...but invariably someone confuses it with water and dumps it (seriously!)

The way to increase room-temperature shelf life is to make a more concentrated simple syrup. People talk about adding vodka to simple syrup to improve stability, and I confess to thsi practice myself. But I don't think it really makes much difference. Adding an ounce of alcohol -- even 96% abv alcohol -- to a pint of simple syrup won't raise the alcohol content enough to make a difference.

As for people throwing out the simple in your fridge... I keep all my simple syrups in bottles like this:

gallery_8505_276_85464.jpg

Never had anyone mistake those for water.

Then I discovered bottled "Volcano Orange Juice" -- available at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.  This is richer and more full-bodied than any orange juice you can squeeze at home.  Try this in a Monkey Gland and it will be a revelation.

Actually, the richness and concentration of bottled orange juice is one of the things to which I object. If I can tell the difference, then I don't want it. There is also a certain fresh quality to just-squeezed orange juice that bottled simply cannot match. I assume this is due to oxidation. Don't even get me started on bottled versus fresh grapefruit juice.

No matter how careful you are with sanitation, things grow in Simple Syrup eventually, especially the 1-1 versions.

Adding a touch of alcohol and/or keeping them refrigerated helps lengthen their life.  Though, I still don't find they last much longer than a month or two.

I refrigerate all my syrups, so I can't say much about keeping them at room temperature. But maybe I've had tremendous good luck, because I've never had a simple syrup turn on me. Not once. And I don't have the advantages of a dishwasher to sterilize my bottles in between batches.

As above, I'm not sure that adding alcohol really makes much difference.

I keep the grenadine in the freezer.  It turns into a kind of slushie; but, thaws quickly enough once you get it out and give it a couple shakes.

In the freezer? Why? Is it a 1:1 sugar and POM grenadine? If so, I'd really encourage you to make my version of grenadine. I do a four-fold reduction of POM, then melt in as much sugar as it can possibly hold. After that cools, I stir in as much fresh POM as it takes to be reasonably pourable, shooting for a texture roughly similar to 2:1 demerara syrup. Much richer flavor than the 1:1 version, better shelf stability, and it still has some of the fresh kick of the uncooked version.

--

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Don't want to get too far off-topic here, but last time I made grenadine I put about 1 tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tbs of orange flower water per quart of finished product and it was pretty much the best grenadine i've ever had, lots of complexity.

-Andy

Andy Arrington

Journeyman Drinksmith

Twitter--@LoneStarBarman

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[...]
I keep the grenadine in the freezer.  It turns into a kind of slushie; but, thaws quickly enough once you get it out and give it a couple shakes.

In the freezer? Why? Is it a 1:1 sugar and POM grenadine? If so, I'd really encourage you to make my version of grenadine. I do a four-fold reduction of POM, then melt in as much sugar as it can possibly hold. After that cools, I stir in as much fresh POM as it takes to be reasonably pourable, shooting for a texture roughly similar to 2:1 demerara syrup. Much richer flavor than the 1:1 version, better shelf stability, and it still has some of the fresh kick of the uncooked version.

re: why freezer

Mostly because I don't go through that much of it.

Perhaps the grenadine conversation should go in the grenadine topic; but, I'll just comment...

I used a combination of 1:1 sugar and Knudsen Just Pomegranate juice syrup, with 1/4 cup Carlo pomegranate concentrate (not molasses), diluted with 1/4 cup vodka. It's pretty close to the idea a certain slkinsey presented over on Cocktail Chronicles. I suppose it's really closer to "instant" pomegranate liqueur. But, I don't make shirley temples for kids, so no big deal to me. Very concentrated pomegranate flavor.

---

Erik Ellestad

If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck...

Bernal Heights, SF, CA

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Speaking of fresh fruit juices, has anyone else seen "cocktail grapefruit" in the produce aisle? Wegman's had these and they were about the size of an orange. Since I'm the only one at home who likes grapefruit we didn't pick up any. Just wondering if anyone else has seen/tried these.

KathyM

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Smoothness - There's not much thats better, in my opinion, than a drink that goes down like silk.

Also, I know it's best for certain beers etc but not being a beer drinker, I think serving drinks "ice cold" spoils them somewhat.

Please take a quick look at my stuff.

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one other thing:

I agree of course with regard to squeezing lemons or limes whenever possible.

I used to agree on oranges.

Then I discovered bottled "Volcano Orange Juice" -- available at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.  This is richer and more full-bodied than any orange juice you can squeeze at home.  Try this in a Monkey Gland and it will be a revelation.

I may just take a look at this. With the winter freeze destroying most of the current CA citrus crop, the rest of this year is going to be brutal for fresh citrus. I don't think I'll see much citrus at the farmer's market again until next year. I wonder if I'll even get a chance to make limoncello?

I expect we'll see this reflected in drink prices.

This is the time to renew or make acquaintances with locals that have citrus trees... :smile: I suspect backyard trees in the Bay area may have done okay during this low temperature snap because it wasn't quite as cold here. (Maybe this will prove to be a wrong assumption.) I have a good friend with a big lemon tree in his backyard on the Peninsula who always gives me lemons and it will be even more nice to have the source this year...

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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The freshness of the fruit does seem to make a difference.

Take a lemon. Take a very sharp paring knife. Cut a strip of peel down the long axis of the lemon, maybe as wide as your little finger. If you like, and I usually do, flip the peel over and trim off the pith from the underside (needless to say, you don't need to bother with this last bit if you're not dropping the twist into the drink).

When you flex the peel over the surface of the drink, you should be able to notice citrus oils spraying out from the peel. The oils should be apparent on the surface of the drink, unless there is foam on the surface.

--

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