Go bold with garnishes.
The chef’s adage “you eat with your eyes first” applies equally to cocktails. A bartender’s technique toolbox might start with a jigger and shaker, but it’s often the final presentation that steals the show. In the case of lemon zest on a Sazerac or a quality cherry in a Manhattan, a subtle garnish does more than provide decoration: It’s an integral part of the drink’s flavorful finish. On the other hand, both bloody marys and Tiki drinks are famous for over-the-top garnishes synonymous with ostentatious accouterment. We’ve seen bloodys with practically the entire brunch buffet teetering on top and flaming Tiki spectacles incorporating half of a Whole Foods produce section. Here are four lesser-known cocktails in the “garnishes gone wild” category, with ingredients and basic technique available to most home bartenders, all with stunning results—no fire extinguisher needed.
The Garnish: Tejín-seasoned rim, grilled shrimp, celery
Move over, bloody mary. Mexico’s masterful concoction of cerveza preparada makes for a bright and zippy brunch accompaniment and is particularly refreshing on a hot summer morning. There are as many interpretations of this beer-based cocktail as there are distinct culinary regions of Mexico, with mix-ins like lime juice, hot sauce, spices and the oft-debated preference for straight tomato juice or Clamato (mixed with clam juice). Usually served over ice with a spiced or salted rim, it’s an ingenius south-of-the-border solution to beating the heat. This recipe is reminiscent of a Michelada Loca I enjoyed after a long morning mackerel fishing in Cabo San Lucas. The server brought a goblet to the table with a half-dozen shrimp still steaming from the grill and tipped an entire mini-bottle of Corona right into the middle of the drink. ¡Salud!
On a small shallow plate, mix together tejín spice and salt. Rub the rim of a goblet or oversized martini or margarita glass with the reserved lime, dip into spice mixture to coat. In a separate container, add lime juice, hot sauce, Maggi sauce and Clamato or tomato juice. Stir well to combine. Fill goblet with ice, add Clamato mixture, pour beer into the glass to the rim. Garnish with grilled shrimp and celery stalk. Often this drink is served with the remaining beer on the side.
1 tablespoon tejín spice
(a Mexican spice with chile and lime zest)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ lime, juiced (reserve spent shell)
2-3 dashes hot sauce
2-3 dashes Maggi or soy sauce
½ cup Clamato juice (tomato and clam juice)
1 Mexican lager beer of choice
4-6 shrimp, cleaned and grilled
1 celery stalk with leaves
The Garnish: Cotton candy & paper airplane
Although it was undoubtedly shaken up well before then, 1916 saw the first published Aviation cocktail recipe via New York City barman Hugo Ensslin. This’d be during America’s fledgling flirtation with all things flyboy-related. (Quick U.S. History refresher: Wright Brothers, 1903, Kitty Hawk, steampunk goggles. Caught up?) The gin martini spin incorporated crème de violette, a floral purple liqueur giving the chilled cocktail a hazy lilac hue reminiscent of a dusky sky. During Prohibition, French crème de violette was rarer than hen’s teeth in the U.S., but after WWII, it became more readily available at the same time commercial air travel was economically feasible for middle-class Americans. In comparison with our current environment of pajama-wearing hordes and the indignities of compulsory disrobing and TSA pat-downs, the 1950s seem like travel’s halcyon days—at least as far as fashion and cocktails go, with air hostesses and stewardesses trained in the art of shaking and stirring dry martinis by request in the smoke-filled cabin. Although the cocktail is traditionally served with only a maraschino cherry dropped into the bottom of the glass, it’s a drink screaming for a little more drama. In this case, a “cloud” of Utah-made Lollipuff lavender cotton candy (when dissolved into the drink, it provides a sweetness usually made with a touch more simple syrup) and a tiny paper airplane.
Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice, shake until tin is frosty. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Drop a brandied cherry to the bottom of the glass. Pull a piece of cotton candy that reaches just past two rims of the glass and garnish with a paper airplane.
Aviation (adapted from New York’s Death & Co. Modern Classic Cocktails)
2 ounces London dry gin
(try New World’s Oomaw gin for a local spin)
½ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
½ teaspoon crème de violette
¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
2 dashes simple syrup
The Garnish: Cucumber spiral, strawberry slices, citrus zest
Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur has a long and storied history in England, being a secret recipe developed as a tonic sometime in the 1840s in a London oyster house. A gin-based herbal liqueur with a relatively low proof (25 percent alcohol by volume), it’s usually used as a base mixer served highball-style with ice and ginger beer or lemon-lime soda, which Brits call “lemonade.” Over the years, the Pimm’s company made additional versions (No. 2 with Scotch and No. 3 with brandy, up to No. 6 made with vodka), which have gone in and out of style. You’ll find elaborately garnished Pimm’s cups served in oversized wine goblets at posh events like tennis tournaments, polo matches and regattas, but it’s just as likely to be found poured by the pitcher in a London oyster house. The most basic recipes call for a couple ounces of Pimm’s poured over ice with an equal amount of ginger beer served on top. With apologies to my British friends, my favorite Pimm’s cups cut some of the drink’s traditional sweetness with a splash of dry gin and a touch of lemon juice. The elaborate garnishing, though, is a must-do on either side of the pond.
Cut a large long hothouse or Persian cucumber in half lengthwise. Using a vegetable peeler, peel a long strip of cucumber from the cut face going end-to-end to make one continuous wide strip. Starting at the bottom edge of a tall Collins-style glass or wine glass, mold the cucumber strip to the inside wall of the glass, working in loose spiral to the top. Fill glass with ice. To a mixing glass, add gin, Pimm’s liqueur and lemon juice (with no ice) and stir briefly to combine; pour into cucumber-trimmed serving glass. Add ginger beer to the top of the glass and garnish with elaborate lemon zest, cucumber “flowers,” strawberry slices, candied kumquats or other fruits (the more obnoxious the better). Serve with a straw.
½ ounce London dry gin
1½ ounces Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur
Juice of one quartered lemon (remove the zest of
the lemon first in a spiral)
2 ounces ginger beer
1 hothouse or Persian cucumber
The Garnish: Citrus wheels, pineapple, edible flowers
Now virtually extinct, in our humble opinion the Knickerbocker cocktail deserves a resurrection. This class of cocktails rising from New York in the 1850s and ’60s had at its base a heady combination of rum, citrus juice, fruit syrup and Curaçao, and was perhaps named after the Empire State’s Knickerbocker Ice Co. A good bet, considering its role as one of the first punches to be served with copious amounts of shaved ice. Drinks historian David Wondrich calls the Knickerbocker “the spiritual progenitor of the Tiki drink,” also associated with the fly fellas who drank these refreshing coolers in the summertime wearing their knickerbocker truncated knee-breeches. Keep it local using one of Utah’s many rum producers (Dented Brick, Distillery 36, Kid Curry, Outlaw Distillery or Sugar House Distillery) and make the raspberry syrup from berries snagged at a weekend farmers market. In true proto-Tiki fashion, this drink deserves presentation in vintage glassware with some serious fruit salad garnish on top. Bonus: if you can find them, edible flowers make a pretty (and delicious) topper.
This cocktail is made in the style of a punch: All ingredients are mixed together briefly in a separate glass (with no ice), stirred to combine and poured into a goblet filled with crushed ice. Garnish with sliced orange and pineapple pieces and, why the hell not, some maraschino cherries and hibiscus flowers.
*To make the raspberry syrup, combine 1 cup raspberries with
1/3 cup sugar, ½ teaspoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, and cook until fruit has broken down and released all juices and mixture begins to thicken (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from heat, strain through fine mesh to remove solids. Will keep in an airtight container refrigerated for up to two weeks. Makes about ½ cup.
Knickerbocker à la Monsieur
Adapted from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
1 ounce white rum
½ ounce aged Caribbean rum
½ ounce orange Curaçao
½ ounce raspberry syrup*
1 ounce fresh lemon juice