Dressed Up Drinks – Adding Flair to your Drinks
Garnishing a Bloody Mary with a skewered cheeseburger or a whole fried chicken may be just a little over the top. (Yes, only in the USA.) But we’ve been putting things in our drinks since the cocktail was invented. And many of them aren’t edible.
Olives, onions or a twist?
The twist has been around as long as the cocktail. The earliest known mixologist’s manual, from 1862, instructs bartenders to put a piece of lemon peel in drinks. The original martini started out with a twist, while in the 1890s there was a brief vogue for a cherry garnish. However, by the turn of the century, the olive was firmly established. To turn a martini into a Gibson, just replace the olive with a pickled cocktail onion.
Bronze-age humans were already using toothpicks, but probably not to fish the onion out of their Gibson. Mass produced toothpicks started in Portugal, where nuns carved them from orangewood. They were commercialised in the 19th century by an American, Charles Forster, who discovered the imported Portuguese ones while working in Brazil. By the 1920s, wherever you found a cocktail, there was a toothpick-impaled garnish.
The swizzle stick takes its name from “switchel”, a sticky West Indian drink made from rum and molasses that was recorded way back in 1790. It clearly needed a stir. But the modern swizzle stick was invented in Boston, USA, in 1934, by a guy called Jay Sindler. His patented invention was a wooden spear with a flattened end that carried the name of the establishment. Promotional swizzle sticks became more elaborate as plastic technologies improved, reaching their heyday in the 1960s. Now these designs from the ‘60s are highly collectible.
A Piña Colada wouldn’t be a Piña Colada without its perky little umbrella. The umbrella was, according to some, introduced by Donn Beach, who ran a chain of bars called Don the Beachcomber. The first one opened in Hollywood in 1933. Beach (who changed his name from the less evocative Earnest Gantt) was the founder of the Tiki movement and invented many tropical-themed cocktails including Q.B. Cooler which, he said, inspired the Mai Tai.
Some 5000 years ago, ancient Sumerians were big on drinking straws, sometimes made from gold and encrusted with precious stones. They were used to drink beer. Brewing techniques back then left a lot of sediment and straws stopped the drinker from sucking up the sludge. Straws have since been made from various metals, wood, bamboo and hollow rye grass. The paper straw was invented in 1888 by another American, Marvin Stone. Sadly, plastic straws, which largely replaced paper ones from the 1960s, have become an environmental disaster. Is it back to recyclable rye grass then?
Well, this was probably a one-off. In 2014, a cocktail garnished with three 4-carat diamonds was served at the Moscow restaurant, Reka, to celebrate the opening of their ice terrace. The event was sponsored by a diamond company and the cocktail was made from the finest Hennessy Cognac. A Russian oligarch stumped up the $50,000 asking price. Don’t try ordering one at your local.