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[Photographs: Jennifer Hess]

As cocktail garnishes go, the citrus twist may be easy to demonstrate and simple to understand, but it deserves its place in the cocktailian's basic toolkit for two important reasons: aroma, primarily, but also flavor.

A twist of citrus peel provides more than just an attractive grace note atop a cocktail. When made deftly, using a fresh piece of fruit, it imparts something very important to the finish of a good cocktail: citrus oil.

If you look carefully at the martini above, you'll see lemon oil floating atop the drink, just to the right of the peel. That's what you're looking for.

The oil is there more for aroma than for flavor. If you engage all your senses while enjoying a cocktail, and my friend, you certainly should, your schnoz will notice a waft of fresh citrus aroma drifting off the glass as you lift it to your lips.

Go on, take a moment to enjoy that. Make your mouth wait. Your nose deserves its rewards too.

What you'll need:

  • One fresh piece of citrus fruit, preferably organic. (Pesticides are not a welcome cocktail ingredient, and neither is wax, which coats even organic fruit. One way to remove the wax, if it concerns you, is to flash-boil each piece right before using, and then scrub off the wax with a vegetable brush.)
  • Sharp paring knife

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What you'll do:

  1. Hold the fruit in your non-dominant hand with your thumb near the top pole and your pinky supporting the bottom.
  2. Take the knife and cut toward you, slowly, through the peel. Be careful not to cut too deeply into the pith, which is bitter and will make your drink taste the same way. Don't worry right now about cutting an attractive shape; we'll cover that later. Just cut an elongated oval.

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  1. Take the peel in both hands, between the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Twist over the glass, peel side down, to express the citrus oil onto the surface of the drink.

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  1. Rub the peel around the rim of the glass to provide a little extra flavor.

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Your twist should look something like the peel on the left. Notice how you can see the pores of the zest through the pith? That's, generally speaking, the most pith you should have. The peel on the right is pithier than your high-school American Lit teacher and should be avoided. You can, if you're careful, cut away some of the excess pith.

About the Author: Michael Dietsch writes A Dash of Bitters. He is an accidental bartender, boozologist, and liqueur auteur. He lives with a spirited female and crazy felines in Providence.

More Cocktail 101 with Michael Dietsch

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