The garnish seems to be so deeply ingrained in cocktail-culture that I have mostly taken it for granted. However, over the last few months, I have been increasingly neglecting this staple of the drinks-world; I just let the gin do the talking on a familiar canvas of tonic water. I have found myself becoming frustrated with the lime in my G&T and been finding that the garnish is masking the gin, rather than enhancing it. There are exceptions to this; Sipsmith being the obvious one that absolutely needs that little wedge of lime.
The more I discard the idea of the garnish, the more thought I have given it and this thinking has raised some unanswered questions. I have always maintained that admitting ignorance is a virtue and, to this end, I feel I have to throw these questions out there and ask for help in getting to the bottom of it all. However, I am struggling to compose any sort of structure around my thoughts, so I’m going to just spew some ideas onto the page and see where we get to, so I apologise in advance if this is a little less coherent than usual.
I can see that a garnish can add a layer of flavour to a drink, even texture and aroma. This can come in many guises and, in some drinks, I think it works very well. For now though, I am just going to focus on the humble Gin & Tonic as I think this is where most of my troubles are occurring.
There seems to be an increasing trend to add an existing botanical as the garnish of a G&T. Cucumber in Hendrick’s and Apple in Caoruun are a couple of such examples. However, if you add a slab of cucumber to a Hendrick’s G&T, how on earth are you meant to appreciate the cucumber in the actual spirit? Can the apple of Caoruun really be detectable and enjoyed when looked-for around slices of red apple floating around the top of a glass? Surely this just overrides the subtleties of a premium spirit.
In a similar vein, most gins contain some citrus botanicals, yet we often cram our G&T with slices of lemon or wedges of lime. Is there not enough citrus between the gin and the tonic? If not, why are there not more gins that are absolutely dripping with citrus?
It all just seems a little short-sighted and unimaginative to me.
Surely a better approach would be to add something that compliments the flavours that are already there. Maybe mint or fennel with the cucumber of Hendrick’s, maybe elderflower, ginger or clove with the apple of Caoruun, maybe basil or thyme with the fennel of Death’s Door?
Why stop there, though? Taking things a few steps further, there are many herbs and spices in the gin-spectrum that are are often coupled with meat on the plate. Game is a common choice with juniper and meat comes with its own gelatin. Would gellified drops of meat stock make a good compliment to a G&T? I’ve learned not to judge things without trying them so maybe, next time I do a Sunday roast, I should set aside some of the meat juices to see how it works with a herby gin. Duck with citrus? Pork with apple? Lamb with rosemary?
Madness? Probably. My thoughts on meat-based cocktail garnishes were had whilst eating an absolutely lovely pulled-pork after the navy-strength gin tasting I went to recently; I was a little tipsy at the time.
Potential lunacy side, an even better approach might just be to enjoy the product of a master distiller as simply as possible. A lot of time and effort goes into the creation of a new gin, in some cases years, and being able to fully appreciate that effort seems worthwhile to me. Certainly where a gin is more complex, with many subtleties and flavours, then leaving the garnish out allows you to enjoy the roller-coaster of flavours without hiding it under a blanket of [insert garnish of choice].
I think that gins with simpler flavour profiles and more classic gins are better able to withstand the addition of garnish but I need to be confident that I’m not hiding anything by sticking something else in there. I need to know that the drink will actually benefit from the addition. Most gin cocktails seem to rely less on the flavour of the gin and treat it like just another ingredient, rather than a showcase; in these cases, I don’t think the garnish is a bad thing – I am certainly not anti-garnish. The G&T just seems a bit of a different case to me.
Ultimately, everyone has their own preferences and tastes and these are just my ramblings on the subject; part of my ongoing journey of discovery. What are your thoughts?
Lime garnish: Dinner Series on Flickr
Star Anise: Dana Moos on Flickr