Cocktail garnishes are nothing new – they’ve been used for many years in bartending to add flavor and flair to different drinks. And while they’ve transformed from simple fruit wedges into the gastronomic world of edible flowers and candied bacon, they usually aren’t just for show. For this reason, citrus garnishes remain supreme, whether it’s a wheel, slice, wedge, spiral, or twist. Old Fashioneds don an orange slice, martinis are adorned with a lemon twist, and a margarita wouldn’t be complete without a slice of lime.
The variety of citrus fruits available around the world makes them useful for both classic and modern cocktails garnishes. They’re attractive, versatile, and bring bright flavors to both complement and contrast the drink that they’re paired with. The history of citrus and alcohol together is twofold – these fruits were originally used to improve the flavor profiles of spirits such as rum and gin, but also incorporated into alcoholic beverages for health reasons. Citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C, which helped combat Scurvy in colonial Europe.
Today, citrus garnishes are mostly used to provide balance in cocktails. Their strong acidity can either enhance or tame the flavor profiles of both bitters and spirits. The most common acids found in citrus fruits are malic, succinic, and citric acid, and when used in the proper proportions, these acids can mute the burn of ethanol and establish a bright flavor. This is why it helps to have a slice of lemon or lime after a shot of vodka or tequila.
Another great example of this is whisky highballs, which almost always contain a citrus garnish in order to enhance the flavor of the whisky. The combination of malt and citrus creates a lively, refreshing flavor on the nose and palate. Bitter flavors from citrus such as yuzu and grapefruit bring out nuances in blended whiskies and the citric acid in lemons and limes go well with malt and grain whiskies.