If rising hemlines mean the economy is improving, what's the significance of bigger cocktail twists?
While the taxonomy of bar garnishes includes wheels, wedges, quarters and spirals, the typical drinker is most familiar with twists, the thin coils of citrus zest that grace martinis and Manhattans. But there's no rule saying a twist has to be short and slender, and barkeeps have lately been peeling wide bandages of orange and lemon skin.
"What's in vogue now are these big, fat twists," Audrey Saunders told a group of Tales of the Cocktail-Vancouver attendees assembled for a bar chemistry session. "That's cool, but you need to think in terms of does the size make sense."
Saunders and her co-presenter Harold McGee repeatedly urged bartenders to consider the ramifications of their decisions - and the science behind them. The title of the session, "Less is More," referred to the counter-intuitive principle of enhancing a spirit's presence in a drink by using less of it (too much alcohol binds up aroma molecules, thereby tightening the cocktail), but could also apply to the art of garnishing.
Oversized garnishes pose physical and chemical conundrums, Saunders explained. They may not fit comfortably in the cocktail glass, and can trample on an otherwise balanced drink
"A cocktail needs a twist, but you don't want lemon to be a welcome wagon," Saunders said. "It can intrude on your palate."
If bartenders insist on using very large twists, they should coat the inside of a glass rather than cloak its rim, Saunders added.
"We coat the glass and put the drink on top of it," she said.
The problems associated with big twists are magnified when they're flamed.
"When you flame a twist, you're oxidizing the flavor profile, so what may have started as a bright lemon note becomes a warm register," Saunders said. "Does the garnish need to be high and bright or subtly tampered down?"