Garnishing Glory

The pisco sour is the ultimate in wintry drinks according to Lenny Amoia, bar manager and cocktail specialist at Bandit’s Roost Speakeasy and Church Street Tavern in New York City.

“With its egg whites, the pisco sour is frothy like snow and I make it really wintry by garnishing it with sprinkled cinnamon on top. Cinnamon always makes you feel nice and warm and there’s nothing like tasting it when you go out in the cold,” he says. The sours in this drink give it a good bite, he adds, and the egg whites give it a rich and smooth texture.”

Pisco Sour

The garnish is essential to this wintry drink, Amoia says, because it remains on top of the fluffy egg whites so can be inhaled with each sip.

Another wintry drink at these Tribeca locales (the speakeasy is below the tavern) is the Smokeshow. This is a mezcal infused cocktail with Aperol, garnished with grapefruit peel.

“Any time you drink something with a kick or a spice it gets your blood flowing quickly, so this is great for the winter,” Amoia says. The mezcal, he says, is a smoky tequila, which has a nice kick; the cocktail also contains a mulled brown sugar cube and a dash of grapefruit bitters “which give some tart to the sweetness and smokiness.”

The choice of grapefruit peel for the garnish was deliberate. “The citrus oils from the peel helps balance out the smoky, sweet chemistry of the cocktail,” Amoia says. “Before your lips touch the glass you get the aroma of the grapefruit, but when you sip the drink it complements the smoky taste from the mezcal and balances out the sweetness of the brown sugar.” 

The speakeasy and tavern also serve the Elvis, made up of Bulleit Bourbon, berries such as blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, lemon juice, agave—and prosecco if it’s served up. This wintry drink is garnished with whichever type of berry is in it (and three berries if they’re blueberries), staked onto a skewer and served across the rim.

Bandit's Roost cocktail from Church Street Tavern

The ultimate winter cocktail Amoia serves, he says, is his own twist on an Old Fashioned. His contains house-infused cinnamon apple syrup and calvados. “We mix them in the bottom of a rocks glass, then add bourbon, then our garnish is a big block of ice with a red apple slice in the middle. The block of ice fills the glass. It’s the perfect complement to a three-ounce drink because it doesn’t dilute it too much—and it’s a great garnish he says, “because it symbolizes freezing.”

Garnishing can make such a difference to a drink, Amoia says. “Presentation is half the battle. With the proper garnish and proper presentation, the more inclined guests are to order it.”

Accustomed to its own fair share of inclement weather, Sable Kitchen & Bar in Chicago has its own elegantly decorated wintry cocktails.

But head bartender John Stanton has a rule about garnishing: “It must add something to the flavor or aromatic quality of the cocktail, not just make it prettier,” he says.

Two of his winter drinks are hot toddies—the Rudely Elegant, containing Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum, cinnamon syrup, honey and Regan’s Orange Bitters, chocolate bitters, all garnished with a pad of spiced butter.

Hot Buttered Rum

“It’s a New England thing,” says Stanton. “The butter stays on the surface and creates a sort of cream to enhance other flavors.”

The Rudely Elegant’s pat of butter contains brown sugar, ground cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, “which pulls out some notes from the rum and works well with the honey, and the spices layer over all the flavors and enhance them,” Stanton says. The butter on this drink is already melted by the time it’s served but it remains on the top so is the first thing a customer tastes.

The bar’s second hot toddy, the Hot Buttered Sazerac, contains Bulleit Bourbon Rye, cinnamon syrup, Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters and absinthe rinse, all garnished with Peychaud’s compound butter.

This garnish simply contains the Peychaud’s Bitters—one ounce to a quarter pound of butter. “But bitters are an ingredient you don’t necessarily want to increase linearly,” warns Stanton, “so if you do a pound of butter you probably won’t want four ounces of bitters, but maybe two.”

Stanton serves up three other wintry cocktails with innovative garnishes:

The Easy Street (Old Heaven Hill bourbon, honey-pepper syrup, fresh lemon juice, egg white, Bittercube Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters), which is garnished with cracked peppercorns.

“This is my favorite, a whiskey cocktail modeled after The Gold Rush—a whiskey sour with honey and egg whites instead of regular sweetener.”

To make it, Stanton mixes two parts honey to one part water, cooks it for five minutes, then leaves it to sit for a day or two. “This balances out the fresh lemon juice and the whiskey base. Then we garnish with cracked black pepper on the top so that’s the first thing that ignites the senses when you’re about to sip it, since it sits atop the egg whites.”

Life Tether (Old Heaven Hill Bonded bourbon, Laird’s Apple Brandy, Amaro Averna, Bittercube Jamaican #1 Bitters), which is garnished with a flamed orange peel.

“This isn’t a new trick but a cool one,” says Stanton. We heat up the orange peel before we express the oils so when we put a lighter in front of it and as you express the oils a big swath of flames comes off it. We get a lot of oohs and aahs when we do it and it gives a great burnt orange note to the cocktail.”

The Ploughshares (Neisson Rhum Agricole, Kina L’Avion, green-black pepper syrup, fresh lime juice) garnished with shaved green pepper.

“This is aimed more toward cocktail geeks but we’re proud of how it came together,” Stanton says. He infuses a syrup from green peppers, sugar, water and cracked black pepper and mixes it with the rum, fresh lime juice and Kina Avion. “Then we take a mandoline and shave long tails of green pepper over the top. It looks great and people eat it.”

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