We appreciate having a favorite beverage and sticking to it, but we all need some variety from time to time. Even if you have a standard drink of choice, there are plenty of ways to kick it up a notch.
We eat — and drink — with our eyes first. Before we even sip a beverage, we can be excited by a lively presentation or be met with something disappointingly basic. One visual element of a drink is so important that it has the potential to change your entire experience: the garnish.
What Even Is a Garnish?
A garnish is an item used to embellish a mixed drink or cocktail. Think back to an old fashioned topped off with tasteful (and tasty) maraschino cherries or the salted rim on your margarita glass.
If you’re building a DIY home bar with friends, family, or loved ones, using garnishes in your creations is sure to impress. When you have a lot of options, everyone can choose the cocktail garnish that’s just right for them.
Some love using fruits like raspberries, orange slices, blueberries, a cranberry or two, and more. Meanwhile, others prefer anything from fresh herbs to orange peel, or even cocktail onions for a Gibson.
Whether you’re an aspiring home bartender or a pro mixologist, there’s no limit to the number of cocktail garnishes you can create.
Why Add Cocktail Garnishes?
Cocktail garnishes are fashionable, useful, and a little fancy, too. Adding an edible flower to an otherwise classic cocktail is a sure-fire hit. You may or may not choose to eat the flower in the end, but the visual story that it told while you were drinking made it all worthwhile.
Sometimes, a cocktail recipe will specifically call for the use of a certain garnish, while other times you can just default to your own preferences.
Garnishes can swiftly transform a drink from drab to fab, but they aren’t just a visual tool. Garnishes can also deepen the flavor profile of a cocktail. The right addition can highlight a specific element of a drink, be used as a flavor enhancer, or even contrast aspects of the drink.
Many people think of garnishes as decorations perched on top of a drink or on the rim of their glass, but they can also be placed inside of the drink. If a garnish is inside the drink rather than on top of it, it will probably add more flavor notes, too.
Overall, garnishes are meant to turn your drinking experience up to eleven when you’re enjoying a cocktail. When done right, a craft cocktail should intrigue all five of your senses — not just taste — and leave them ready for more.
On Point Presentation
While we know that garnishes are more than just a pretty picture, that visual element is still an important part of its appeal.
You’ve likely noticed that a garnish’s presentation can change your perception of a drink (and the bar where it’s served). For instance, a drink decorated with cocktail umbrellas sets a slightly different tone than one topped with orchids. Neither is better than the other — they simply set different moods, and each has its own time and place.
If you’re assembling a cocktail bar, consider the tone that you want to set for your guests. This will help inform the kind of garnishes you should purchase and how you’ll want to use them.
Wheels & Wedges
The first popular kind of garnish comes in both wheel and wedge forms. Specifically, wheels and wedges are popular cuts of citrus fruit for garnishes. One of the most common wedges you’ll see on your cocktail glass is a lime.
Lime wedges provide a tartness that elevates drinks like a daiquiri, a margarita, and many more mixed drinks.
You might find pineapple wedges on more tropical, tiki-inspired drinks, like piña coladas. Grapefruits, oranges, and lemons are also commonly cut into wheels or wedge garnishes.
Twists add some potent aromatic notes while providing aesthetic benefits to your drink. Unlike a wheel or wedge, a twist only utilizes the peel or rind of a fruit. You can use a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler to create this uniquely twisted shape.
A citrus twist adds its oils to the cocktail, which is why it’s usually placed into the drink or balanced on top using a cocktail pick or small skewer. For instance, rubbing a citrus peel onto the rim of an old fashioned or a Manhattan before dropping it in creates new tastes and smells in your drink.
Herbs are another garnish fave. For proof, look no further than the sprig of mint you’re likely to find in a mojito. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil, and more are all commonly found in creative (and delicious) cocktails.
A sprinkled garnish can come in many different forms. You can sprinkle anything from cocoa powder to cinnamon to a savory spice like black pepper on top of your drink.
You can also rub a sprinkle-style garnish onto a drink’s rim such as salt, sugar, or even actual sprinkles for a treat.
Tools for Easy At-Home Garnishes
Preparing garnishes at home is easier than it might seem. You just need the right tools.
Fruit and vegetable peelers are an essential part of any mixologist’s toolkit. With a peeler, you can bring each part of an ingredient to its fullest potential, though they’re especially useful for twists.
Kitchen shears are helpful for a number of reasons, but they’re notably useful when it comes to trimming an herb down to size to be used as a garnish.
Toothpicks are as aesthetic as they are useful. You can spear any number of fruits and vegetables onto a toothpick before putting it on top of your cocktail glass.
When cutting anything from celery for a Bloody Mary to a lime for your boring old tequila soda, you’re going to need a reliable knife by your side.
Recipes To Test Your Garnishing Skills
Finally, a test where you’ll always get an A+. Now that you know the cocktail garnish basics, you can experiment with your favorite recipes.
These are a few of our favorite drink and garnish combinations to inspire your next mixology adventure.
Watermelon Basil Kombucharita
To make this rejuvenating beverage, muddle fresh basil into the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Then, add in an ounce of tequila, a half-ounce of lime juice, a half-ounce of agave, and three ounces of our Watermelon Basil Hard Kombucha.
As for the garnish, you can choose to highlight either the watermelon or the basil. For a pleasant finish, consider using a melon baller and putting several small watermelon balls on a skewer or bar pick. For a fresher flavor, a basil leaf on top of your drink will go a long way.
Berry Blash ‘Bucha
Start by muddling strawberries, then add an ounce of gin, a half-ounce of lemon juice, a half-ounce of honey syrup, and three ounces of Wild Berry Hard Kombucha over the top.
This drink will already be a stunning color thanks to the muddled strawberries, and any garnish should emphasize that. We recommend edible flowers to complement this light and delicious drink.
There are few drinks classier than a martini, but this rosemary-ginger element puts a new spin on an old favorite. You’ll need equal parts gin, rosemary-ginger simple syrup, and Ginger Hard Kombucha.
Add fresh lime juice to taste for an invigorating tartness. A refreshing sprig of rosemary is the ideal garnish to balance out the spice of the ginger.
Up Your Garnish Game!
By carefully choosing your cocktail recipe, garnish, and glass, you can create a drinking experience like you’ve never seen (or tasted) before. It’s all about the details.
Cocktail 101: A Guide to Garnishes | Serious Eats
Cocktail Garnishes: Beyond the Lime Wedge | Chilled Magazine