Issue 30

The Garnish

The Garnish

The ever important game of one-upmanship is a staple in the world of craft cocktails. The bar with the most interesting, the most strange, or the most beautiful drinks has become a title to aspire to – a title that seems to transfer itself to the ordering of the cocktail.

A strong pour and a shot of cola isn’t enough, people want the experience; people want something they can Instagram. There’s a complex art to making an incredible drink. One has to think about the consistency, the taste, the temperature, etc… Even if these criteria are reached, if the appearance is off, the whole drink experience can be ruined. Presentation is key.

Watching a skilled drinksmith prepare your cocktail is mesmerizing. It’s like a dance, their movements are fluid and confident; you know what you’re experiencing is truly special. Then, just when you think they’re done creating your masterpiece, they add a little embellishment. Garnishing can make or break a drink. Too much can overpower the subtleties of the beverage. The wrong flavor can throw off the balance. The wrong color or shape can detract from the beauty.

Everyone is familiar with the lime wedge on a gin and tonic or the celery in a Bloody Mary. These drinks wouldn’t be the same without them. Try replacing the lime with cucumber in a Hendrick’s gin and tonic and you have an entirely new experience; still refreshing but cool and more nuanced. Bloody Mary’s have been reimagined in dozens of different ways in Omaha alone. Garnishes have changed to pickles, bacon, limes, jalapenos and who knows what else – each catering to a different consumer. The Benson neighborhood has, in my opinion, the finest Bloody Marys in town (try Jake’s Cigar and Spirits or Krug Park).

If you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, Omaha has a surprising number of progressive establishments with passionate and creative bartenders. My favorites include Jake’s, The Boiler Room, The Grey Plume, and the Sidedoor, but go early when it’s less crowded to get the full experience.

The citrus twist is a very popular addition. Bartenders somehow turn a lame piece of rind into a corkscrew that delicately teeters on the edge of a glass. Using just the rind, as opposed to a chunk of fruit, allows the drink to obtain the flavors from the essential oils while not overpowering it with all of the juice.

Some bartenders have taken the concept of “latte-art” to the cocktail scene and can create shapes and designs using the foam on the top of certain drinks. Some use seasonal herbs and vegetation as inspiration for their drinks. The cocktail list at a high-quality place changes seasonally like the menu at a fine restaurant. Some use flowers as garnish to add a graceful and feminine appeal. That being said, these drinks aren’t exclusively for woman, they oftentimes contain more alcohol than “manly” drinks. A friend of mine told me that men sometimes send a drink back without trying it because it’s pink. My advice is don’t be so insecure.

Garnishments aren’t limited to the rim. Even ice can be a garnish. The popular spheres and perfectly cubic, clear crystals have made a huge difference in presentation. The improved appearance is amplified by the fact that the quality and shape of the ice can change the taste of the drink. Different shapes melt at different rates and are suited for different types of cocktails. A purposefully strong drink meant to be sipped slowly benefits from a larger cube while a drink meant to be served as cold as possible needs a smaller cube.

An elegant, well-embellished drink is a great way to treat yourself. It gives you an opportunity to talk to a stranger. It gives you the chance to try something new. It gives you time to slow down. If you can sit back and really appreciate something unique, it makes life more interesting, stranger, and more beautiful.

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