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The garnish is the pocket hank of the cocktail. Done thoughtfully, correctly, it adds dimensionality and interest to a well-balanced ensemble. It also has the potential to be a distraction when done poorly.

In my opinion, an olive is generally a poor garnish for the martini. Yeah, I know, but hear me out first. We’ve spent the last few weeks learning to build and balance an elegant, timeless drink. Dropping a briny, green olive bomb into your beautiful craftsmanship makes about as much sense to me as shitting in your rose garden. Olives are great if you’re making an xx-dry, saluting-toward-France-while-skipping-the-vermouth “martini” and want a little salty goodness to tame the pungency of your cold gin. I do enjoy some cold-gin antipasti myself on occasion, particularly on really hot afternoons or after a day of crushing defeats. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. But let’s all admit that an olive — even if you can find a quality one — is overpowering compared to the drink we’re constructing and look elsewhere for our “pop” of flavor.

Now take lemons. Or oranges. Bright, pleasant-looking, scurvy-fighting citrus. Now here’s something that belongs in our drink. A twist of lemon, orange, or grapefruit catches the nose, lifts the senses and the eyebrows, gets you primed for goodness as you come in for a sip of cold-and-wonderful. Herbs can work, too, or edible flowers in season. Have fun, but thoughtfully.

I like a vegetable peeler for this, but a paring knife works, too. Slice a healthy swatch of skin off a (reasonably fresh) orange, avoiding the bitter, white pith as much as possible. Once your drink is strained into the serving glass, squeeze this skin over the surface of the cocktail. You should see a small mist and notice minute drops of oil scattered across the drink’s surface. If you want to be showy about it, you can even ignite this mist in a flash of flame. (It’s impressive the first couple times you see it). Next, rub the skin around the rim of the glass to leave some oil around the entire drinking surface. This process is at least as much for odor as for flavor, but you will be surprised how much different garnishes will change the effect of your drink. You can drop the “twist” in when you’re done for a little extra flavor and visual interest, but you don’t have to. Keep the olives on the side with the cheese and charcuterie.

Next week, shaken v. stirred, and serving drinks “up.” Have great weekend. Drink well.


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