One of the easiest ways to bring your cocktails from decent to delectable is by mastering the art of the garnish. A thoughtful and well-paired garnish can enhance and deepen any drink.
We know elaborate garnishes can seem intimidating so we pulled up a barstool with our friends at Vena’s Fizz House to learn more about the art of the garnish, their approach, and how we can take some of their tips home with us to enhance our at-home cocktail game.
Mary Jo Marquis, Director of Business Development at Vena’s, knows a thing or two about good garnishing techniques. She says ‘as the tie is to the suit, the garnish is to the cocktail’. She tells us that a garnish can be just for aesthetics or it can add to the flavor profile to the drink.
At Vena’s, they grow a lot of the herbs and flowers that they use in their garnishes on-site. They look at the seasons to find inspiration for their cocktail lists and garnishes and try to grow or forage as much as they can and they supplement with what they find at local area markets.
In the summer you can find Mary Jo foraging sea roses along the coast. She says they make excellent garnishes!
Vena’s likes to have fun with their garnishes and cocktails. They also like to bring in some history of Portland to them too.
Their cocktail Longfellow’s Word is a beautiful bourbon drink. To enhance the flavor of the drink, they use a special tool to shave the lemon rind. After the drink is made, they take the lemon rind and twist it on top of the drink so the oils and zest from the lemon are the first things you taste. They then rub the rim of the glass with the zest.
To add some historical and aesthetic flair, they bought tiny clothespins and on each drink, they clip one of fifty different Henry Wadsworth Longfellow quotes to the glass before it goes to their guest to enjoy.
.75 oz Makers Mark Whiskey
.75 oz Spiced Pear Liqueur
.75 oz Allspice Dram
.75 oz lemon juice
One of their most popular cocktails is the Lumbersexual, a very aromatic drink. They use rosemary they grow themselves as a garnish. To get out extra aroma they slap the rosemary to wake them up and express more of their essential oils. Another approach when using herbs is to bundle and tie them, almost like a bouquet.
1.5 oz Gin
.5 oz Dram Pine Syrup
.5 oz lemon juice
.25 oz Wilks & Wilson Sir Teddy Tonic
For their Blackberry Stinger, they use metal garnishes like a metal cocktail pick covered in plump blackberries and a copper straw.
Perhaps Vena’s most elaborate cocktail (which can also be ordered as a mocktail) is the Fluffy Fizz. This drink is beautifully decorated with grown up cotton candy and a colorful pinwheel. This drink is tart and as the cotton candy melts into the cocktail, it balances the profile of the drink.
2 oz vodka
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz lime juice
1 oz cherry juice
1 oz orange shrub
When choosing what to use to garnish your drink, the folks at Vena’s say it doesn’t have to be elaborate to deepen a drink. If you just want to use a lemon, orange, or lime wedge or twist, just express the oils over your drink and run it around the rim for more flavor.
They also suggest looking for bright colors that can take your drink from drab to stunning. Vena’s encourages experimenting, especially in the summer when you have more options. More flowers than you may realize are edible. In the summer Vena's cocktails are filled with fresh flowers, ‘it is almost like a little celebration when summer is here’ Mary Jo says.
Garnishes don’t have to be scary or complicated, they can just be fun! Experimenting is always encouraged.