Too often tequila is served in a shot glass, chilled and decorated with crystals of salt and beside a bright emerald crescent lime that acts as the moon does bathing everything it touches in brightness–or in this case, acidity to counterbalance the rush of tequila across your palate. Thankfully, this sort of ritual is reserved for tequilas you probably don’t care too much to taste.
But when you find a tequila whose taste you want to admire, such as our line of organic tequilas, perhaps you’d rather entertain a more dynamic realm of flavors. You may explore cocktails such as the Tequila Sunrise, which plays with tropical flavors, or a Bloody Maria, the sister of the classic Bloody Mary and the agave star of your next brunch.
Even then, however, you may want to play with new flavors and experiment with all the twists and turns and subtleties of a great agave spirit. In our article on the different types of tequila, we learned that blancos should be clean and pure, reposados slightly sweet, like vanilla or caramel, and añejos robust and with rich molasses finish. Each kind of tequila pairs differently with various garnishes, as well as different flavors within the drink itself. For this reason, it’s important to know not only what to garnish your next tequila-based cocktail with, but how.
For every sweet element, consider something bitter, tart, acidic, salty, or spicy to act as a counterweight. For every fruity flavor, consider reinforcing your drink’s base spirit (in this case, tequila) with another spirit, such as a liqueur, to round out the flavor and prevent the fruit from taking over. As you play around with flavors, you start to pick up on what is needed to create something whole and cohesive instead of a drink that either clashes with itself or is overpowered by one ingredient.
Real examples of this can be seen in familiar tequila cocktails. A Margarita (non-frozen) can be made simply with two ounces of tequila (your base spirit), an ounce of agave syrup and one ounce of fresh lime juice. A Paloma is similar in that it employs tequila and lime, but gets its added sweetness from grapefruit soda. A Tequila Sunrise leverages orange juice for tartness and grenadine for sweetness.
Now, if the cocktail is the cake, then the garnish is the icing on top.
Something like a salted rim on a tequila drink does more balancing than anything else. Torching a sprig of rosemary more often adds a crucial element to a cocktail that would be lost without it. Knowing what you’re trying to accomplish with your garnish will help to determine which one is right for your drink.
If you’re trying to balance your cocktail, you want to consider what was said above: for every sweet or fruity element, consider an appropriate “opposite” flavor to balance it out. A Margarita can use a salted rim. For a Tequila Sunrise, an orange wedge and cherry play supporting roles for the orange juice and grenadine stars. A unique garnish for this drink might be pomegranate seeds, which can be used to complement grenadine and/or a tart juice. Similar to the Maraschino cherry at the bottom of an old fashioned, the pomegranate seeds add flavor and a bit of a surprise treat once the drink is finished.
If you’re trying to add something new and interesting to your drink, compounding flavors that already exist in the drink is a different story. You’ll want to explore flavors that add layers to the drink, not too dissimilar to something like perfume. There are different flavors that come out at different points and last for different lengths of time while drinking, and a good garnish plays on this fact. Take, for example, the torched sprig of rosemary. This sort of garnish can play up the oakiness of an añejo while adding afresh herbal note to the nose. Since taste relies so heavily on smell, something like this can make a huge impact on the way the drink tastes.
With this information, hopefully you’ll get adventurous when it comes time to make your next tequila cocktail. Below are some ideas for unique garnishes to get you started: