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The latest cocktail trend is teeny tiny, undeniably adorable and looks like it has been ripped from a Pinterest board. Mini clothespins are securing to your glass everything from citrus peels and chamomile blossoms to notecards and nibbles. But do they make the garnish more about style than substance? And does your lemon twist really need to be hung out to dry?
“For me, the appeal is purely functional,” says Carlie Steiner, the owner and beverage manager of Himitsu in Washington, D.C. “My pet peeve is ... an inedible floating garnish that continues to travel straight into your mouth with every sip.”
Clipping an expressed citrus peel still makes it part of the cocktail (delivering aroma with every lift of the glass) but keeps annoying floaties at bay in drinks like the summery, Manhattan-esque Capitol Hill, made with rye whiskey, amontillado sherry, blanc vermouth and bruised cucumber.
And there is another logistical reason to banish the garnish to the fringes of the glass. In Himitsu’s Finding Nori, made with white rum, nori, lime and sugar, a thin, delicate sheet of the shredded, dried seaweed is clipped to keep it from getting waterlogged.
The miniscule clips work with everything from small flowers to herbs, says Steiner, but she’s quick to point out that she doesn’t see it as a trend. “Since I use it more as a functional tool, I plan on keeping them around for a long time (until I think of something better).”
But just why are these twee pieces of wood and metal so utterly appealing? For Stephanie Atkins, it all comes down to what could be compared to an Alice in Wonderland kind of fascination with things disconcertingly yet intriguingly out of scale.
“People enjoy the novelty of things that are disproportionately sized on either end of the spectrum,” says the cocktail and event creative at Philadelphia Distilling. Kitschy cocktail picks, massive volcano bowls, magnums of Champagne and, yes, diminutive versions of tools Grandma used on wash day all leave an impact. Conversations about them spill out of the bar and onto social media.
A sprig of dill is clipped to Atkins’ herbaceous Penn’s Woods, made with Bluecoat American dry gin, dill, basil, coriander, lemon and club soda. The Southeast Asian–inspired Little Thai Market, made with The Bay vodka, Bluecoat gin lemongrass, lime and celery bitters, is adorned with a mini bunch of Thai basil, which synergistically adds aroma along with earthy sesame oil dashed on the drink’s surface.
So if a garnish never takes a swim, it must be about aesthetics, right? Not necessarily, according to Atkins, who says your senses of smell and taste have a “buddy system” going on, each adding to perceived flavor. Herb, citrus peels and anything else with aromatic oils work best with clothespins, but she steers clear of anything large or awkward that you don’t want close to your face.
“As long as it can be clipped, adds to the cocktail experience and does not physically obstruct the guest from easily accessing their beverage, you should be in business,” says Atkins.
Proof + Pantry in Dallas started using mini clothespins on cocktails about three years ago, and owner and bartender Michael Martensen says they remain the most photographed menu detail. An expressed orange peel on an Old Fashioned gives a DIY choose-your-own experience.
“The clip allows the guest to interact, unclip the peel and dispose of it where they like,” says Martensen. “Whether it’s in the drink itself or on the cocktail napkin.”
The English Eye, made with Old Tom gin, framboise lambic beer, sparkling wine and orange blossom water, is served with a bouquet of mint on the rim. “This secures the mint right where we want it, where it maximizes the mint aroma for the drink,” says Martensen. Any adornment that’s not too thick will work, adds Martensen. So lemon balm is in, but stalky lemongrass is most definitely out.
And bartenders are eschewing bowls of wasabi peas for snacks that come tethered to the drink. At Grayson Social, also in Dallas, a small baggy of house-cured beef jerky is attached to the Beef & Bourbon, made with bourbon, maple syrup, myrrh, cypress and honey, each working in tandem to enhance the flavor of the other.
At Lago by Julian Serrano in Las Vegas, the Smoked Peach Margarita, made with Herradura Double Barrel reposado tequila, house-smoked Pallini Peachcello liqueur, lime and vanilla-thyme syrup is served with El Silencio joven mezcal peach compote in a salted-lime agave cone.
Grayson Social lead mixologist Brian Boone submits that clips can even serve to put the focus on something completely inedible, like a small note with someone’s name or a fun slogan.
That’s the idea behind the Rose & Rye at Lobby Bar at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md. Created by beverage director Ricardo Murcia and made with Catoctin Creek Roundstone rye, Aperol liqueur, Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, red rose syrup and lemon juice, it comes with a welcome greeting from the general manager printed on cardstock.
Of course, we’re betting that you won’t have to write yourself any reminder notes to make a trip to your local craft store to procure a bag of these little guys for your own cocktailing.