Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rachel Maddow

For the most part, I think Rachel Maddow is a great ambassador for cocktail culture -- especially home bartending, and I don't want to take a true lover of cocktails to task over seemingly minute details. But aren't 'the minute details' what cocktail culture is all about? Listening to this podcast from The Sporkful, I found myself with a few bones to pick...

In response to a question about when it's appropriate to eat the garnish in your cocktail, Maddow said:
You're never supposed to eat the garnish. It is there to modify the liquor in the glass, not to provide you with a tasty treat.
While I agree that you shouldn't eat a waxy, bleached "cherry" that's been sitting out on a bar all night, a Marasca cherry is absolutely meant to be eaten. At the bottom of a Manhattan, that special little fruit is a reward for finishing the cocktail and it's full of boozy flavor. I feel the same way about other garnishes, as well. A tiny bite from the piece of crystallized ginger on the Penicillin (a Milk & Honey cocktail by Sam Ross), or the Whistler's Diablo, will make the drink a little spicier, if desired. I'm not saying that eating the orange rind in your Old Fashioned will be too pleasurable, nor the lemon twist in your French 75, but I don't agree that the the olive in a Martini is there to simply "modify the liquor."
Citrus garnish - express the oil onto the surface of a drink. You don't even need to put it in the drink. The long, curly-cues of lemon are pretty but not functional.
Totally true. Most of the time you should discard the citrus peel once the oil has been expressed. However, while I don't prefer it, I don't mind if a bartender leaves the lemon peel in my Sazerac.
In a gin and tonic, squeezing the lime wheel into the cocktail is the worst. The drink should be mixed properly and the wedge should be for visual appeal only. If you want more lime juice, you should have the bartender remake your drink with more lime juice. The wedge is not to recalibrate your cocktail.
First of all, there is no lime juice in a gin and tonic. It is served as a "side" in the form of a wedge, so the customer can decide if they want lime juice in the gin and tonic at all.

She's got it right when it comes to garnishing tools; her recommendation of using a potato peeler to procure a nice lemon rind, and a channel knife to carve a perfect "pig tail," are spot on.


  1. The long curly-Qs of peel are functional if you use the channel knife over the drink. The act of cutting the twist sprays oils over the top.

    A lime wedge has more than an aesthetic and juice-option role if it is freshly cut so that it has a great citrus oil aroma. Old wheels or wedges cut at the beginning of the shift lack this glorious aroma.

    And who says citrus twists aren't to be eaten? While I rarely eat lime ones, orange, lemon, and grapefruit peels can be tasty.

    I'll have to listen to the podcast when I'm not here at work but the garnish is any combination of food, aesthetic, aromatic, flavor contributing. Personally, I like the ones that are aromatic the most since there's something greeting you before you take a sip. And if tastefully done, garnishes for appearance are my second choice.

  2. Frederic, I totally agree with you about the long curly-Qs of peel if they are cut over the cocktail. However, the way Maddow presented her rule, it was more as if they were cut elsewhere and just plopped into the drink. I also agree that the (freshly cut) lime wedge positioned on the rim of the glass certainly does add a wonderful olfactory element to the cocktail. I should clarify and say that I discard the citrus peel for cocktails served down, but include it in the glass when there is ice. I'm excited to hear your thoughts after listening to the podcast.

    By the way, I'm a big fan of your blog and appreciate the comment!

  3. 2/3rds of the way through and done with the garnish section. She's opinionated and expressing her personal concepts of what she does at home without acknowledging the full set of reasons that there's a garnish. Well not a garnish, but a wide variety of garnishes. Everything from giving a boring brown puddle in a glass a little pizazz by floating the orange peel coin on top (besides aroma, it breaks up the monotony and your eyes taste the drink first, then your nose, all before your mouth gets to it).

    I still disagree with the part about not eating the garnish as a rule. I generally agree with her, but acting like an authority on this is like preaching that your religion is better.

    And she does need to learn to use a channel knife to express oils. Maybe she should watch a Robert Hess video or other before acting like she has all the absolute answers.