Thoughts from a Coaster #2

by Gaz Regan · Tuesday, August 13th, 2013 · Mindful Bartending

Get ready guys, I’m about to take off my earrings.  I’m really upset about something.  It’s something that some–and not just a few–bartenders have started to do incorrectly.thoughts from a coaster

When I criticize bartenders I usually preface my remarks with something like, “In my opinion . . .”  Not this time, though.  This is my opinion.  AND I’m 100-percent right.

So what is it that’s gotten my goat?

What have bartenders been doing that’s really made me see red?

Well, as far as I’m concerned, this issue is VERY important.  It changes the way our guests drinks taste.  What can be more important than that?  Here goes, then.  This is the issue:


Quite simply, the issue here is pith.  The white inner part of a lemon peel.  It’s bitter.  Very bitter.  But it doesn’t change the way a drink tastes unless you do something really stupid like infusing it into a spirit.  Its presence on the back of a lemon twist is not only desirable, it’s mandatory if you want to express the oils from the twist onto the top of a cocktail.

One thing that annoys the heck out of me with these too-thin twists is that, in a dark bar, its’ nigh-on impossible to figure out which side is the outside of the twist, and which is the inside.  Worse that that, though, is the fact that they just aren’t sturdy enough to use properly.

Please watch this short video in which I prove my point.lemon twists 001


I’d like to add here that the reason I brought up this subject was that I tended bar at an event recently, and I was handed pre-cut twists that had been made by some pretty accomplished bartenders.  And none of them were use-able.  They were thin enough to read a newspaper through them.  Pretty annoying, it was.

After posting this rant I received a video from none other than Jamie Boudreau, owner of Seattle’s Canon, and renowned bartender extraordinaire.  Jamie is one of the most creative innovators in our business.  The video showed a pair of hands (presumably Jamie’s) using a vegetable peeler to cut a twist over a naked flame.  Oils from the fruit sprayed from the twist as he peeled, he managed to incorporate enough pith to make a sturdy twist.  More oils came from the twist as he then twisted it over the flame.

I tried to recreate this at home, and although oils did spray from the lemon as I cut the twist, try as I might I was never able to dig deep enough to get enough pith on my twist to make it sturdy.  I used 3 different veg peelers and had no luck with any of them.  Jamie can do this, though.  I saw it with my own two eyes.  So it’s not impossible, it’s just one of those things that I can’t seem to pull off properly.

So, in the interest of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I’d like to now add that, if you’re able to cut sturdy twists using a vegetable peeler, then please feel free.  And if you are going to use this tool, please think about cutting your twists over the drink that you’re working on.  If, on the other hand, you, like me, are unable to cut sturdy twists with a veg peeler, please take my advise and go back to the paring knife.lemon twists 002

6 Responses to “Thoughts from a Coaster #2”

  1. You just can’t get the necessary oils from the peel if the slice is too thin. Half the pleasure in using citrus zests are the flavors they impart to a drink, either rubbed on the rim or flamed into the glass.

    Thank you sir for setting the world clear to us hacks.

  2. Michael Barrett says:

    Another issue is presentation. A peel cut properly with a paring knife is generally going to look better than one cut with a peeler. A very skilled tender can cut a decent looking peel with a peeler, but, for most bartenders, especially when done at speed, it will end up looking quite raggedy. If the lemon has anything other than the smoothest, most even surface, this difference becomes even more apparent.

    Not only that, but, without the pith, the zest doesn’t FLOAT! It sinks straight to the bottom of the glass.

    Even if your bar calls for the zest to be draped on the side of the glass, though, few things are worse than putting an unattractive garnish on an otherwise-well-made cocktail.

    Thanks for this post, Gaz!

  3. Toby S says:

    I’ve always found the Y peeler an inconsistent and fiddly tool. However, using a swivel peeler (OXO make a pretty good one) has always produced great twists for me, with far more efficiency than the fruit knife and no need to tidy them up. These’ll be sturdy, with a fragrant burst of oil, as well as aesthetically pleasing, as they retain the spring of the peel. Perfect for making roses or zesting the whole fruit, too Plus, if you manage to cut yourself on one of these, frankly you don’t deserve fingers.

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