Monday, September 29, 2008

Enough With This Garbage

I know that today's mixologists are desperate to be original, but I think the garnish frontier has gotten out of control.

I went to an event at Astor Center recently. It was put forth as "The 2008 Classic Martini Challenge." This was a bit of a misnomer, since the blind Martini tasting in the lab room was really a blind gin tasting, with no vermouth in sight. (The winners were: #1 Tanqueray Rangpur; #2 Broker's Gin; #3 Zuidam Gin—peculiar results, indeed, since those three gins have completely different flavor profiles.) Meanwhile, the other room used was given over to gin-based creations put forth by the competing gins—only a handful of them spins on the Martini formula.

Whatever. I made my way through these 18 concoctions. Some were winning, some were indifferent, some were God awful. (My personal favorite was Citadelle Gin's Ginger Poire Fizz. This was surprising in two respects. One: I'm not crazy about Citadelle. Two: I'm generally opposed to overly fussy cocktails, and this one was a fussbudget indeed, made of Pear liqueur, minced ginger, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, seltzer and nutmeg. But it worked and was luscious. It didn't make the finals, though. Jim Ryan's Carte Blanche, using Hendrick's, topped both the media and the public tallies.)

Anyway, of the drinks that did not work for me, most were ruined by the injudicious and often just plain idiotic use of bizarre and intrusive garnishes. Bitter shavings of nutmegs spoiled a few libations (not a pleasant dusting, but nasty shards). A huge clumsy hunk of cucumber was plunked in another. One was littered with lime leaves, which got stuck in my teeth. The Bulldog Gin's Lip Lock Cocktail came with a slice of candied ginger. The DH Krahn Gin's Jack Horner cocktail was topped with hyssop flowers, which I was told were delicious, and were not. (The above picture, Broker's Gin and absinthe, was one of the few drinks not to employ any flourish.)

After a while, I began to flinch each time a bartender finished off a drink, wondering what kind of vegetation he was going to throw between me and my drink. I didn't encounter a single garnish that day that really, truly worked. Most made drinking the cocktail a chore. And that should never happen. A garnish is there to either add an additional flavor nuance or to provide visual flair in a way that doesn't take away from the main attraction: the enjoyment of the drink.

Oldtimers refer to garnishes as "the garbage." In this case, that bit of slang is dead on.

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