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A Twist of Lemon – Isabel Swift

January 24, 2011 by in category From Isabel Swift tagged as , with 0 and 0
Home > Columns > From Isabel Swift > A Twist of Lemon – Isabel Swift

Have you ever had a cocktail? I remember when I was younger being curious about the mystery of mixing drinks, and watching and learning from my father. Cocktails were these magic elixirs, complex, mysterious, alluring. Cooking held little interest for me, but making the right twist of lemon was an art I delighted in learning.

My father enjoyed a martini and took pleasure in the details. The right glass, the balance of tastes, the brand, crushing the ice in his hand with a spoon to get the right size slivers, the perfect chill, the right additions. Everything had impact. Everything mattered. And when I would taste the drink, I had to acknowledge that indeed, it did.

As I recall, we were a lemon twist family. I don’t think I learned of olives or onions until some much later date, though limes and even an occasional mint sprig would find its way into a seasonal libation.

But the lemon twist was what made the average drink exceptional.

It started with finding a firm, fresh lemon, with unblemished substantial skin. Not for us those thin-skinned lime-look-alikes. A small, sharp knife was needed and a lengthwise strip would be cut from stem to stern. A bit of white was acceptable, but you were looking to get a nice 1/4 inch (finger wide) ribbon of the yellow top coat, covered with tiny pores.

You’d take that ribbon and squeeze it over the surface of your completed cocktail, white inside toward you, the outer skin facing the drink like—my father would gleefully explain—you were squeezing blackheads. And oil did indeed emerge from the peel squeezing, creating a film of lemon essence, an oil slick on the surface of the drink.

You would then gently sweep the perimeter of the glass with the outside of the peel and drop it into the drink (twisting the peel would deliver similar oil-inducing pressure, but is less thorough, in my opinion). As my father noted, one didn’t really taste much after the first sip of a drink. The chill, the alcohol, would often take over, so the fact the oil essence didn’t last much beyond that initial sip didn’t matter. What mattered was that first sip was exquisite, sparkling, aromatic, heady.

However my experience with almost all ordered cocktails is dreadfully disappointing in this area. Most bartenders take the words “with a twist” at face value, and some variety of a curlicue of lemon appears, extracted by an assortment of designer bar implements and it sits decoratively on the edge of your drink. Useless as teats on a bull.

The whole point of a twist of lemon is to add a touch of fresh lemon oil to your drink, for reasons of taste. Not solely to stick a piece of lemon rind in your drink! But almost everyone misses the point. They make a living doing this, and they still don’t have their eye on the donut, the key deliverable, the “beef” and not the bun.

Missing—or just not understanding—the point is not a new issue.  It can be a problem for aspiring writers too, who may dutifully following the letter Vs the spirit of instructions. Doing something without really understanding why it needs to be done, what value it offers, can lead you astray. It’s often why editorial instructions, tip sheets, etc. can sometimes be non-existent, minimalist or vague—because the requesters know that some information can mislead instead of inform.

In fact, information can distract you from focusing on the point.  As an adviser, you really want the creator to understand that it’s all about achieving the goal: creating the feeling, having the impact, making the experience happen for the recipient. Not (necessarily) about taking each step correctly, following rules, or delivering on the surface requirements, but not the substance. Instructions or information can be helpful, but when it comes down to it, the question will always be: is it delicious? Do I want to keep drinking (or reading, or whatever).

So if you’re having trouble making your text behave, now at least now you’ll know what to add to that beverage you’re going to be fixing yourself!

Do it with a twist.

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