If you want your cocktail garnish to have just the right amount of aromatics, you’ve got to smack it. Mint? Smack it. Basil? Smack it. Rosemary, lavender or sage? Smack it all.
You’ve probably noticed bartenders at your craft cocktail bar clap a garnish between their hands before placing it in your glass. Just like with flaming citrus oils, it’s not all for show. Smacking the garnish releases the aromatics of fresh herbs and adds a nice showy touch to herb-forward drinks like a mojito or a basil-enhanced gin and tonic.
To understand why, you have to understand how herbs make a drink taste better. First off are the oils. Each herb has an oil with a unique molecular formula that gives off a certain scent. Peppermint oil, for example, is C62H108O7 — or 62 carbon atoms, 108 hydrogen atoms and seven oxygen atoms. Those little molecules create the familiar smell.
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Or, to put it in a way that is easier to imagine, think of a vial of peppermint essential oil. What you smell is what is changing the flavor of your drink.
The other part of the herb you need to know is the chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment in the leaves that helps with photosynthesis when the plant is alive and tastes bitter when the plant is dead. The taste, as the top positive Amazon review for organic chlorophyll supplement succinctly sums up, also tastes kind of “like the seaweed used in sushi.”
In short: Herb oils taste good and chlorophyll is not so great. Enter the smack. A smack accentuates the oils, whereas more violent action against the herb — like a muddle or a crush that can bruise and break leaves and stems — will release more of a chlorophyll aroma.
At VinePair, we put smacked and un-smacked mint to a blind taste test. In all but one case, the correct choice was made based on scent alone. To try it for yourself, pull out two opaque cups and two mint sprigs (or whatever herb you want to taste). Smack one and then put each in a cup. Make sure you remember which is which. In general, people will be able to tell that one of the cups smells noticeably stronger, and that’s the smacked herb.
In terms of cocktails, a smacked herb garnish will get you going in the correct aromatic direction for the drink every time you take a sip.
So go ahead and give it a little smack. A spank, if you will. Not too hard and not too gentle, but just right. You’ll be glad you did.