Picture your favorite cocktail in your head. Go on, take a minute. I’d tell you to close your eyes, but you’re reading this so that would probably be pretty ineffective. The point is, when you picture your favorite cocktail, before you imagine the taste of a well-aged spirit, the aroma of a fresh-squeezed lemon or the texture of an egg white foam, you imagined what the drink looked like first. I know that the perfect version of the perfect drink probably didn’t include a sad wilted sprig of mint or a half forgotten wedge of lime just tossed in either, right?
In your perfect version of your most perfect cocktail, I’ll hazard to guess that it looked just as beautiful as it would taste. We drink with our eyes before we even get that glass in our hand and it’s not nearly as difficult as it seems to transform your cocktail into a thing of beauty.
Here are some drink decoration ideas that can make your at-home cocktail a true work of art.
FROM THE GLASS UP
The first step in taking your cocktails to the next level is upgrading your glassware. I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy a whole new set of glasses, but consider adding a few choice pieces to your rotation. Estate sales, vintage shops, Etsy.com — are all great ways to find individual pieces that you just won’t find anywhere else and usually at a huge bargain.)
Hunting down these pieces gives you the chance to not only beautify your cocktail, but add some individuality to your collection. Best yet, you can add just one or two at a time, building an eclectic collection that represents you, rather than being saddled with a 12-piece set when all you really wanted was a couple of coupes.
ICE, ICE, BABY
Drink decoration can extend all the way to the ice in a cocktail. Are you looking at a tropical drink – tall, colorful, and in need of further dilution – or are you having an Old Fashioned, something nice and simple? Your drink’s garnish can start with the rocks it sits on.
For cobblers, swizzles, and most things tiki, consider picking up a Lewis bag. Relatively inexpensive, and paired with a mallet, they allow you to smash those cubes until they’re just right.
For larger cubes, you can pick up ice cube molds in just about any size or shape you wish. Cube, sphere, even long spears that fit just right for your Collins glass. Even a muffin tin can do in a pinch to get a nice big hunk of ice.
If you have the time and the space, you can even make your own crystal clear ice. All you need is a freezer, and an insulated container like a cooler or even just an insulated thermos. If you have the inclination, pop on over to the Craft Cocktail Club Facebook group, where the Clear Ice King and originator of this directional freezing at-home method, Camper English, hosted a “Q&A”
ZEST WE FORGET
Citrus is not only a main ingredient to many a sour, but is low-hanging fruit… so to speak… when it comes to preparing garnishes for cocktails.
Do yourself a favor and pick up that fresh citrus. Grab a couple extra just to make sure you don’t run out, because, worst comes to worst, you can always use some more juice
Before you juice the citrus for your cocktail, think about how they can be used for other drink decorations. Citrus rounds (fresh or dehydrated), wedges, or a nice swath of peel are quick and easy garnishes for cocktails that will work well with any citrus-based drink.
You don’t need to sacrifice an entire lime or lemon just for your garnish, either. If you cut a slice out of the center before you juice your citrus, you have a built-in garnish before you get started. If you ended up cutting a few too many rounds, not to worry, 2 – 2 ½ hours in an oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit on a nonstick baking sheet and you’ll have perfectly dehydrated rounds for use later.
Many cocktails call for a citrus peel. Try trimming the edges to get a much cleaner looking swath. I’d suggest using a y-peeler because they’re great at removing peel without the bitter pith, but any vegetable peeler, or paring knife will do.
After getting a nice slice of peel, use your paring knife to give your twists a crisp edge. Incredibly versatile, the peel from a piece of citrus can be used for twists, cut into intricate shapes, or even rolled into a citrus rose for those looking for a more complex cocktail garnish.
GROW YOUR OWN
Another quick cocktail garnish trick is simply to add fresh herbs. A sprig of rosemary or thyme adds a freshness to your cocktail and bunches of mint and basil give aroma as well as a welcome punch of color.
Adding edible flowers can also add a dramatic element to your cocktail, bringing a whole new element to the drink. Just make sure that whatever flowers or herbs you choose are actually edible; poisoning yourself or others kind of defeats the purpose here.
You can pick these up from the store or grow your own. Many of these herbs and flowers are hearty, easy to grow, and do extremely well in pots if you don’t have the space for a full garden. Perennials like rosemary, thyme, and mint you can keep going with minimal maintenance and basil you can grow from cuttings, keeping your supply year round.
Shaking a cocktail with egg white or aquafaba (chickpea water) gives you a beautiful foam layer that not only adds great texture, but gives you a canvas to be able to create some cocktail art. You experience a drink from every angle, from when you pick it up, to when you tip the glass toward you, so you have the opportunity to dress up the top of your drink as well.
The Reverse Dry Shake
For a nice thick foam, you are going to want to try a reverse dry shake. Shake all of your ingredients, except for the egg white or aquafaba, with ice. Once chilled, fine strain this, add your foaming agent, and give it another good shake. When you pour your cocktail, you’ll have a wonderfully dramatic foam.
Dressing Up Your Foam
Carefully dripping bitters down onto your foam layer, you can then drag a toothpick through the foam to create images. Fresh ground nutmeg or a dusting of cocoa powder can transform a cocktail as they sit on that fluffy layer, but for a professional-looking cocktail garnish, you can take it one step further by making a stencil with a piece of paper or a coaster.
Just trace out the image that you want and using a utility knife, trim the paper, leaving an opening in the shape that you want your powder. A quick dusting and you’ll be making like Banksy in no time.
The best part of dressing up your drink is that there’s really no wrong way to do it. You want three cherries instead of one? Have at it. Think that cocktail would be better with a cinnamon stick? You could be right, give it a shot. Think that your foamy cocktail would look outstanding with a rubber duck perched on the end? I’ll leave that one to you, but the point is, you can and should have fun with it. After all, that’s what cocktails are all about.