Garnishing cocktails seems so obvious.
The Mojito gets a fresh sprig of mint, or sometimes a lime wedge. Margaritas are graced with a lime wedge. So too are Vodka Tonics and Vodka Sodas. Daiquiris, yup, those get limes too. And you’ll definitely see a lime wedge on Caiphirinhas and Moscow Mules. I’m starting to believe that every garnish is gonna be a lime wedge.
It got me wondering. Does this ubiquitous lime wedge suggest that the bartender has somehow forgotten how to balance a cocktail and really needs the guest to help him/her out by squeezing that lime wedge, thereby adding an additional quarter ounce of lime juice in the drink to make it just right?
This isn’t to say a lime, or other citrus, wedge isn’t the right choice on many occasions. Aromatic style cocktails require a citrus peel. The natural oils from the skin of the fruit create a blissful, light zest that perfectly complements the spirits and liqueurs after they have been stirred together. These cocktails are garnished because of form or function. But what about others outside this realm?
The first time I noticed a garnish that did not match any ingredients inside the cocktail was an orange slice adorning a Cosmopolitan at Pane e Vino in 1998. Granted, the drink contains Cointreau, an orange-flavored liqueur, but the primary citrus element is lime. So why not a slice of lime?
I’m not sure why the bartender chose this look other than beauty. That orange slice looked undeniably lovely upon the faint, pale pink backdrop that a quarter ounce of cranberry juice created. Perhaps, the bartender was influenced by that famous paparazzi photo just two years previous of Madonna enjoying DeGroff’s newly re-vamped Cosmo at the Rainbow Room NYC. His addition of the flamed orange peel is as equal in revolutionary status as his then-radical replacement of bottled sour mix with fresh lime juice. In fact, DeGroff’s Cosmo could easily be considered the first ‘craft cocktail’ to pave the path for a re-surfacing of the current Golden Era of cocktails. But back to that pesky lime wedge.
Non-sequitur is a Latin word meaning literally ‘it does not follow’. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as “a statement that is not connected in a logical or clear way to anything said before it”. An orange slice garnishing a Cosmopolitan falls squarely into a category I now call “the Non-Sequitur Garnish”.
I formulated this concept while making a weekly menu at Shutters on the Beach. I was very proud of my fantastic cocktail concoctions the first week, because, well, my ego told me that my cocktails were fantastic. The first week, I carefully crafted my unique and spectacular recipes for all the managers to taste, and everyone was pleased. Upon submitting my menu for the second week, I changed a couple items, but left it mostly the same, assuming that I would stretch out the versions of cocktails that did not necessarily sell that much the week before.
I received an immediate response from the General Manager clearly stating his expectations that the menu be completely different every week. I quickly complied, and this has become one of the coolest statements of direction I have received thus far, pushing me to create new drinks all the time, mixing specs for obscure recipes I have never made, all the while adding and subtracting ingredients to manage a new menu of seven different cocktails every seven days.
One factor I have grown to employ throughout this process is the beauty of the ‘Non-Sequitur Garnish’. For example, if the cocktail includes peach liqueur or peaches from the Farmer’s Market, it may be garnished with sliced peaches. But it may look more ravishing with a fresh sprig of tarragon or sliced radishes as a contrast.
In the heat of summer, I make a drink with vodka, fresh pressed watermelon juice and hot sauce called Rocket’s Red Glare. This simple cocktail only seems to personify true independence with a triple skewered blueberry garnish. Of course, blueberries literally have no place in this beverage, but to shine as it should it cries out for a dash of natural blue. A non sequitur that simply makes sense.
Another cocktail in which I employ the non sequitur philosophy is La Bayamesa. Espresso, cream, vodka, and an unexpected bit of sea salt solution sounds odd but creates a lovely commotion with your palate. Zesting a giant orange peel across the top, and then rolling it around a bamboo stick for garnish seems unnecessary. It has nothing to do with the ingredients submerged within, but visually and aromatically, it is the perfect choice.
One could contend that the garnish I call ‘non sequitur’ on the original Cosmopolitan was inspired by the orange-flavored Cointreau liqueur and thereby an orange peel is in line with the recipe. But Dale DeGroff’s torched zest actively pushed the creative boundaries away from the familiar form of a lime wedge or lemon slice. Perhaps it wasn’t the garnish, but the bartender who changed the game completely. Either way, for me, it opened up a world of possibilities.