Small refinements, in ingredients employed during or after the making of a cocktail, can make the difference between a good drink and a great one. Garnishes, rims, infusions, smoke: All are important tweaks to any cocktail menu.
Take garnishes, for example: Once the Pegu Club in New York started draping flowers on some of Audrey Saunders cocktails, the dam broke, and craft cocktail makers embraced the importance of a last touch.
In San Diego, Erin Williams of Saltbox Dining and Drinking tops her Whiskey Sour with a tiny delight out of childhood. The cocktail (Four Roses bourbon, lemon, sugar and egg white) is crowned with a mini peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. Also in San Diego, Snake Oil Cocktail Co.’s Lucien Conner serves a Peter Rabbit cocktail, made with Pimms #1 and basil lemonade, with a star-anise-pickled baby globe carrot at restaurant Searsucker.
At San Diego's Saltbox, Erin Williams tops her Whiskey Sour with a mini PB&J.
Others mix sweet and savory: At the Public House in Las Vegas, a beer cocktail called the Devil’s Pilsner is garnished with a blue-cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped date served warm. And at Splashes in Laguna Beach, Calif., Chef Jeff Armstrong created the Green Tomatillo Bloody Mary, made with cantaloupe and Thai-chili-infused vodka, a bright green concoction garnished with a jumbo shrimp.
House-infused spirits, as mentioned previously, seem to be making a comeback as well. At Washington, D.C.’s Urbana, infusions are all over the menu: the Tequila Mockingbird (lemongrass-infused Milagro tequila, lemonade, Cointreau, orange blossom honey), Sweet Revenge (serrano-pepper-infused Grey Goose, passion fruit puree and fresh lime juice), the P Street Blue (olive-infused Hangar One vodka, olive juice, blue-cheese-stuffed olives) and the High Tides (pineapple- and brown-sugar-infused Banks 5 rum, muddled lime, mint simple syrup and club soda).
Lucien Conner garnishes his Peter Rabbit cocktail with a baby globe carrot at Snake Oil Cocktail Co. in San Diego.
Grilled and smoked items also are finding favor, as either drink or infusion ingredients. Executive Chef Jose Garces at Sage Restaurant Group’s Mercat a la Planxa in Chicago chars pineapple a la planxa — on the grill — to achieve a smoky flavor, then barman Jake Daniken infuses it in rum for 24 hours for his Charred Pineapple Mojito. Chef Richard Sandoval of Richard Sandoval Restaurants in New York uses caramelized lemon wheels in the Mezcalerzo cocktail, while Lisa Hiramatsu, bartender at Delphine at the W Hollywood in Los Angeles, uses grilled orange syrup in her Smokin Gun cocktail. In Miami, Yardbird Southern Table & Bar offers the Smoked Pear: pureed smoked pears, Woodford Reserve, lemon juice, maple bitters, sparkling wine and a smoked-almond rim. As they say, where there’s smoke…