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To Garnish, or Not to Garnish?

That is the question

Some of you may be thinking so, er… what is the question? G&T is just gin with tonic, right? No need for a garnish if the gin is good. Well, yes and no.

The 5 senses of Gin!

Drinking gin is a sensory experience. Obvious, right? Sight, taste, smell and touch all come into play when drinking a cold G&T from a beautifully presented copa glass. 80% of our taste experience comes from aroma. I’m not sure about sound. Maybe the fizzing of the tonic as it’s poured into your glass. But 4 out of 5 senses coming into play isn’t bad.

The garnish is as much a part of this sensory experience as the drink itself. Garnishes are there to complement or challenge the botanicals within the gin both through aroma and taste. So if you’re wondering if garnishing your G&T is worth the effort, try it with and without and you’ll taste (and smell) the difference.

The garnish is also there to add to the visual pleasure of your G&T. A G&T without garnish, simply a few cubes of ice, would look rather dull.

 

Opihr with lime and chilli
Opihr with lime and chilli

I’m no mixologist

I’m no mixologist (you can probably tell from the photo) but I do love matching up garnishes with the botanicals in gin. My favourite of the moment is Opihr with a lime wheel and a slice of red chilli. As well as looking pretty, the chilli compliments the cubeb in the Opihr really well and gets stronger the longer your G&T lasts, ending with a real kick at the end.

Of course, sometimes this can backfire. As recently, when the chilli I used had the strength of a mule kick. It was quickly removed from my copa glass. But even then lingered long after it was banished. Don’t let this put you off, however. Just choose your garnishes with care!

 

Hendricks, cucumber, lemon and pink peppercorns
Hendricks, cucumber, lemon and pink peppercorns

Is there a right way to garnish?

Well, yes, I do think there is a right way to garnish to get the best flavour. The right way is to put your ice into the glass first to chill it. Then add the garnish. Pour the gin over the garnish. This will get the two joining hands and having a party straight away before you dilute with tonic.

Talking of which, always top with fresh tonic. Always fresh. A bottle you opened a week ago will not have the same zing, even if it still has some fizz. The flavours inside will be stale and tired. Keep your tonic or mixer in the fridge. It needs to be cold. I prefer a ratio of 1:2: gin to tonic, most of the time. I want to be able to still taste the gin. Although this might be too strong for some.

 

star anise and cinnamon
Star anise and cinnamon

Not all garnishes are created equal

I’m talking dry versus fresh garnishes. It’s ok to pop a couple of dried juniper berries or a few pink peppercorns in your G&T to look pretty. But don’t expect them to add any flavour unless you crush them first. And then wait for them to steep in the glass for a few hours. You get the picture.

Gin botanicals are essentially cooked at high temperature to extract the flavours. You can’t do the same thing by bunging them in your copa glass with a bit of tonic.

Of course, there is an exception to this in spices. Try adding a star anise to a robust juniper-forward gin and tonic. Divine.

 

Gin Mare, rosemary and blood orange peel
Gin Mare, rosemary and blood orange peel

Herbaceous citrussy thing

Herbs like rosemary, thyme and mint are great for garnishing as they all have strong distinctive aromas that pair well with savory gins.

If citrus is your thing always use fresh. The flavour in citrus is strongest in the oils in the peel. I’ve tried freezing citrus wheels but the taste is not the same as fresh. Something is lost. In fact, it goes without saying that your garnishes should be tip-top fresh.

Don’t be afraid to jump in and have a go. Add lemon to a citrus gin and you get a double whammy of citrus. Adding something as simple as a strip of cucumber to your Hendrick’s can take your G&T to another level.

Finally, as I’ve said before in a previous blog post, let YOUR taste buds decide how to garnish your G&T. Experiment. You don’t have to be a mixologist to enjoy gin. Raid your herb garden. And your fruit bowl. And most of all have fun!

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