Sunday, January 9, 2011

Pin It

Ungarnished: Beachcomber’s Gold

I often dispense with garnish in food and drinks. In the case of a little parsley sprig on my steak, it's a matter of no significance whether it's there or not. In drinks circles, especially among the tiki crowd, some regard omitting garnish as heretical. For them, the garnish is itself part of the point of the drink. Those tropical drinks in particular can take on such decorative excess that they bring to mind birds of paradise, a Wal*Mart dressing room disaster, or Carmen Miranda's botanical headgear.

Beachcomber’s Gold with ice shell
Sometimes garnish — say, freshly spanked leaves in a mint julep — does make a real difference to the drink. When you bury your nose into a bunch of mint leaves, the aroma of mint is unmistakable. And pleasant, as long as you like mint. But so often, chunks of fruit are merely dropped in the glass with no thought of what they're supposed to do. Pineapple and maraschino cherry on a toothpick? Gives you something to munch on, but doesn't have much impact on the drink itself. Likewise, the unsqueezed lime wedges slipped into undistinguished rum-and-Cokes don't contribute to the taste of the drink. Squeezed, though, to get that lime juice and all-important lime oils in the glass, and now you've got a nice Cuba Libre. I don't drink rum-and-Coke, but I do like a Cuba Libre now and then.

To my mind, garnishes look pretty but ingredients actually contribute to the taste and smell of a drink. Consequently, visitors find very little garnish around at the Whiskey Forge; no Thai orchids, no spears of pretty but practically odorless pineapple leaves, no little fez-wearing plastic monkeys capering on the edge of their glasses.

Beachcomber's Gold sans ice shell
So when I saw the recipes for Beachcomber’s Gold in the Tiki+ app calling for re-frozen crushed ice formed into a sort of shell-like overhang, I knew I wouldn't be doing that. I'm not saying I'd never make one — just not for the first time I'm taking a new drink out for a spin. The Beachcomber’s Gold can be made a few different ways depending on which recipe you follow, but the one below is my favorite. The bitter Pernod and unmistakable almond extract with a trio of rums make it a complex mix of homey and exotic tastes. Now that we've made it once and I know it's worth adding to the Whiskey Forge drinks opus, I'll give it a shot with the ice shell.

The original 1937 Don The Beachcomber recipe from Jeff Berry's Tiki+ app follows. To make it my way, eliminate the pre-formed shell and blend it a bit longer.
Beachcomber’s Gold

1 oz gold Puerto Rican rum
¼ oz gold Jamaican rum
¼ oz dark Jamaican rum
½ oz fresh lime juice
½ oz sugar syrup
6 drops Pernod
4 drops almond extract
2 oz (¼ cup) crushed ice

Put everything in a blender. Blend at high speed for no more than 5 seconds. Strain through a fine-mesh wire sieve into a saucer champagne glass lined with an “ice shell” forming a hood over the glass. Serve with short straws.
ICE SHELL: Place a generous amount of finely shaved ice in the center of a chilled glass. With the back of a spoon, slowly press the ice up the sides of the glass, forming a hood that projects over the glass. Freeze glass overnight.

Did I type out that recipe? I did not: I emailed it to myself directly from the iPhone application. Nice feature. The illustration is a screen grab from the app that I cropped on the phone with Photoshop. And for the record, I actually love little fez-wearing monkeys. Just not so much in my whiskey.

Goes well with:
I talk smack about garnish, it's true, but that doesn't mean I hate it and turn my nose up at drinks that have...decorative touches. Some blogs where the writers aren't afraid to spend a little time purdying up their dranks that are definitely worth checking out:
See if any of them will do that monkey thing for you.


frederic said...

Lime wheels and wedges can give great aromatics if they are cut fresh for that drink (same aroma as a twist). If cut in advance, I agree that they're nothing but a diversion away from a monocolor drink.

Matthew Rowley said...

*If* they're cut fresh, I agree — but if such things are contributing to the overall — I'll be a dork and call it "organoleptic experience" then they've shifted in my mind to the arena of ingredients. Looking at the citrus is in fact one of the first things I do when ordering a drink out. Dried, or even browning and oxidized, edges are still far too common. We'd bitch about such things if buying a salad at about the same price, so why not drinks?

Matt Robold (RumDood) said...

I actually don't really spend time making the elaborate garnishes for drinks at home. Even a Three Dots & a Dash, for which the garnish is ritualistically attached to the name, doesn't get it's traditional garnish unless I'm working at the bar.

My preference on garnishes is for functional garnishes. If there's a mint sprig or a twist in your glass when I hand it to you at home, that's because the drink just isn't right without it. The only exception is the occasional maraschino cherry (though that does add some flavor to the drink).

Matthew Rowley said...

I buy that, Matt. Maybe what we're getting at is in fact a distinction between drinks for show (e.g., work, a photo shoot, bartender competitions, historical recreations) versus home-style cocktails. Food fans are forever trying to replicate — with various degrees of success — restaurant meals at home, so why not make drinks the "right" way, replete with traditional garnishes, umbrellas, back scratchers, etc.

Visitors do get a twist or mint around here, too, but never strictly because it's pretty or "that's the way it's done" — because it adds aroma and flavor to a drink that otherwise just wouldn't be as good without.

That being said, I do have a feathered Trader Vic's bird swizzle and a plastic back scratcher among my swizzle stick accumulation.

Damon @ Let's Tiki said...

Many times I skip the garnish at home too. However, I have to wonder if the ice in this case melts a bit and adds to the drink by diluting it down a bit. I've never made this drink, but, I know many of the Tiki drinks rely on a little dilution to taste even better. Great article! Mahalo

Matthew Rowley said...

Damon ~ Given the comments here and on Facebook, the growing consensus seems to be that most who make drinks at home frequently ease off the garnish, but would go all-out if entertaining friends, making drinks for customers, or preparing for a photo shoot.

I this case, I think you're right: crushed ice would dilute the drink more and probably impart a better taste as the drink sits a bit. That's exactly why I call for blending it a bit longer than the specified 5 seconds. In the second picture above, you may also notice a few odd ice chips floating at the top of the drink. This would ruin a Manhattan for me, but I found it fitting here.


Tiare said...

Good point @Damon! i also ease up on the garnish at home but i like garnish so usually i add a mint sprig, or lime twist when approapriate.

Its a different story on my blog or for guests.And that applies to cooking too for me, when i have guests i garnish the food.

But i`m not so much for making my drinks look like christmas trees with a million different things unless it would be a drink that is supposed to be that way.

My all time fav garnish is the fresh mint sprig and for photography, all kinds of green leaves..

Another funny thing that i know Rick (Kaiserpenguin) also likes is to try to make it a bit crazy or VERY crazy..;-) for photography of course!

Nick said...

Yeah, I stick to the functional garnishes at home as well. I just downloaded the Tiki+ app and made the Beachcomber's Gold, which is how I stumbled upon your blog. I agree the almond extract and the Pernod (I used absinthe) take this nicely beyond the daiquiri and make it something special.

I didn't make the ice shell either. At first I thought, why is this drink warm? Then, I realized I forgot to put the crushed ice in the blender. First drink of the day, so no excuses. Instead of blending longer, I would add another 1/2 to 1 oz crushed ice and pour unstrained into the glass if not using the ice shell.

Matthew Rowley said...

Nick ~

Apologies for not getting back to you sooner: we've been in New Orleans since last week and have had horrendous internet coverage. Catching up now as I wait for the flight back to California.

I agree 100% — the almond extract and the Pernod do make this something special. In fact: thank you for reminding me. I made it a point this year to drink well rather than drink plenty (though, in truth, there was a bit of both). When I get home this afternoon, there may just have to be a check of supplies to make sure we can swing a Beachcomber's Gold tonight.


Capn Jimbo's Rum Project said...

No little fez-wearing plastic monkeys!? Oh no, Mr. Bill! This pretty much eliminates the readers of The Rum Project, not to mention Jeff Berry.

But Havabanana New Year anyway!

Matthew Rowley said...

Welll...No fez-wearing monkeys here, but I suggest you check out the booze-swilling pair I found in Paris (