Published March 08, 2012
In life, how you finish is generally far more important than how you start.
It's the same when putting together a cocktail. Of course starting out with great ingredients and technique tends to set the stage for a great drink. But, topping off a cocktail right does separate the great from the merely good.
After all, people drink in the glass with their eyes before it ever rolls into their stomachs. A quality flourish that adds a little flair to the cocktail, not to mention complementary flavors, is the finishing touch the helps guests understand why sticking with this maestro of mixology may be a good idea.
It takes a true master craftsman to seek out the best ingredients available for their experiments behind the bar. From wine-soaked cherries that make day-glo red maraschinos look like radioactive abominations to nigh-ethereal marshmallows that float like happy little clouds in delicious pools of boozy bliss, there are plenty of ingredients out there to make you and your creations look like rock stars.
Here are just a few to get you started topping drinks off like a pro.
These are the anti-maraschinos. Forget those garish red freaks of nature, these cherries are soaked in merlot and deliver a hefty dose of cherry flavor married to a beautiful jammy wine undertone that brings raspberries and fresh floral notes to the table. A touch of vinegar in the mix brings out enough tang to balance the flavor and add nuance to the cherries, as well as the cocktails.
Some may grumble about the cherries not being pitted, and while it is inconvenient, that decision leaves the fruit as beautiful little orbs, rather than the nondescript blobs they'd likely be if the stone was removed. These add depth to anything from Old-Fashioneds to Manhattans and Cosmos, and are well-worth ordering from the Robert Lambert web site. Just keep a close eye on them in the fridge – they have a habit of disappearing regardless of whether you're mixing up some drinks or not.
Sure, you could rip open a bag of grocery store marshmallows to top off your Irish coffee or chocolate martini, but it'd be far more fun to drink your dessert paired with a handmade treat infused with whisky and citrus.
These Edinburgh-born treats pack a smoky punch, using peaty scotch balanced only with orange and the sugary sweetness of the marshmallow itself. It doesn't work on everything, and requires a trip to the ZukrBoutique page on Etsy.com to buy, but few things could make a dessert cocktail like a little piece of childhood tarted up with delicious booze.
It's all too easy to pick up a nondescript jar of pimento-stuffed olives at the grocery store. But easy isn't necessarily good, and it certainly doesn't result in hot-blooded guests gazing at you with capsicum-fueled desire.
These olives are a study in intensity, bringing the salty umami of nigh-perfect olives to the table and pairing it with deliciously spicy habanero peppers. The spice is somewhat tamed, featuring only a jalapeno-style heat rather than the four-alarm blaze typical of the habanero, but that just means your guests can still taste the dirty martini or Bloody Mary you just topped off with a skewer full of them.
Sometimes it's important to have something with a little more chew to it to top off a cocktail. Whether it's a well-made Bloody Mary at the brunch table or a sugary sweet dessert cocktail loaded with chocolate, adding a little extra bit of savory to the mix is almost always a welcome thing.
Armandino Batali, owner of Salumi and Mario Batali's father, is the man when it comes to delivering that extra bit of oomph to virtually any cocktail. His Mole salami pairs amazingly well with a huge range of drinks. It may seem weird, but a skewer with a slice or two of this chocolate, cinnamon, ancho and chipotle pepper-scented marvel sets off anything from a margarita to a Michelada, and keeps the hunger pangs at bay until the meal is served.