Cocktail Garnishes 101 For Home Bartenders
A salty rim. A cherry on top. Who doesn’t love a great garnish adorning their cocktail? Garnishes take a simple drink and turn it into something elevated and amplified. Cocktail garnishes are like getting a card on your birthday — you’d be fine without one, but getting one means that someone on the other side really put some thought and effort into your experience. A citrus peel. It’s that final touch of sophistication that adds visual appeal, an aromatic enhancement, and from time to time - a pop of flavour to your drinks.
We are here with a few tips and hacks to help you raise your garnish game. Let’s get into it!
Cocktail Garnishing Guide For Home Bartenders
Must have cocktail garnish tools
A well-stocked home bar is key to hosting success. Make sure you have these essential garnish tools on hand to level up your cocktails and show your guests some love.
1. Vegetable Peeler
Most of us have a vegetable peeler in our kitchen drawer. What if we told you, it can be used for more than peeling spuds and carrots? Well, it can. It allows you to create long strips of citrus that you can then zest over the top of your cocktail to add a bright, fresh note.
Tip: always peel towards yourself when using a vegetable peeler – your thumb and fingers will thank you!
2. Citrus Zester
A citrus zester is great for zesting citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges and giving your cocktails a lovely pop of flavour. We recommend blending these citrus zests with salt to create a range of different colours and flavours to add to your cocktail’s overall appeal and taste.
3. Bar Spoon
When it’s time to stir things up, a bar spoon is your secret weapon for mixing, layering and adding that final touch of precision. If you don’t have a bar spoon, not to worry, a metal straw makes a great alternative as not only can you get the stirring done, but you can also taste your cocktail along the way!
4. Cocktail Picks
It’s easy to ‘pick’ the winning cocktail when little skewers of perfectly speared fruit slices, olives, or even herbs are involved. Cocktail picks come in all shapes, sizes and styles to match any party theme or vibe. Metal picks are great as they can be reused and add real elegance to your cocktail.
5. Melon Baller
We recommend using a melon baller to create small, uniform fruit spheres that will definitely give your cocktails ‘baller’ status. If you really want to impress, try freezing the fruit spheres to replace ice cubes and keep all the flavour in your drinks, or if you want to elevate your martini – pickle them.
Classic cocktail garnishing suggestions for home bartenders
Combining these six essential garnishes with a good selection of spirits will show your guests that you’re prepared for any cocktail request.
1. Maraschino Cherries
Everything’s better with a cherry on top! Maraschino cherries are delicious, rich vibrant red cherries soaked in a sweet syrup. Whether sat at the bottom of a classic Manhattan or nestled in a tropical Mai Tai, the cherry has solidified its place in the cocktail garnish canon.
2. Stuffed Olives
Delicious snack inside a cocktail? Yes please! These are a perfect vehicle for flavour and also make a stylish addition to any cocktail glass. They can have a variety of fillings like blue cheese, pimentos, jalapeño, or garlic – and are perfect in classic vodka martinis and any gin-based concoctions.
3. Orange Wedges
Sunshine up your life, and your cocktails, with orange slices. Whether floating in a refreshing Aperol Spritz or adorning a classic Old Fashioned, orange slices bring a bright and citrusy hit to any cocktail. Plus, they’re great to snack on while sipping your aperitif.
Cucumber is a great garnish to add a bit of botanical flavour to refreshing summer cocktails like a Spiced Mojito or a classic Gin and Tonic. We recommend getting your trusty vegetable peeler to create super-thin cucumber slices that would give any cocktail a touch of elegance.
5. Salt or Sugar
Salted or sugared glass rims may divide the crowd but can also enhance the flavour and presentation of cocktails. The most famous cocktail with a salty rim is the Margarita, giving the perfect sip combination of salty goodness and spicy tequila bite. When hosting, try to provide options without salt or sugar for guests with certain preferences or dietary requirements. Flavoured salts and sugars work amazingly well on tequila-based cocktails, try salt with pink peppercorn on chilli flakes to delight your guests.
6. Whipped Cream
Cream! In cocktails? Absolutely! This is pure indulgence meeting creativity. This creamy topping can elevate your after-dinner drinks to decadent new heights. Imagine a velvety Irish Coffee crowned with a dollop of whipped cream, or a luscious White Russian adorned with a cloud of creamy goodness. The question isn’t why...it’s why not?
Herbs and spices as cocktail garnishes
Herbs and spices were destined for more than cooking! Fresh and fragrant herbs – like mint, basil, rosemary, and thyme – are widely used in the cocktail scene for their visual impact and hit of flavour. Our tip is to lightly clap fresh herbs, such as mint or basil, between your hands to release their aromatic oils, then place them on top of your cocktail as a fragrant garnish.
You can use herbs and spices in many other ways, too. Create herb-infused syrups or oils to drizzle on top of a finished drink. Dust the rim of a glass with a blend of spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or chilli powder, to add an extra layer of flavour. You can even skewer whole spices, such as star anise or cinnamon sticks, for an aromatic kick.
Fruits as cocktail garnishes
The easiest and most vibrant way to add flavour and texture to cocktails (and a little vitamin kick) is with fresh fruit.
We know citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges are garnishing heroes. But if you’re looking for something different, try using berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. You can drop them straight into jugs of Pimm’s, thread them onto cocktail picks, or gently muddle them at the bottom of your glass for a burst of fruity goodness.
One of our top tips is to create a DIY garnish station with a selection of fresh fruits, herbs and spices for guests to customise their own drinks.
Unique cocktail garnishes
The only limit to garnishing is your imagination! Wow your guests with garnishes they might not have expected. Try the following at home:
- Infusing fresh vanilla pods into cream to use in Irish coffees
- Freezing flowers into ice cube trays for gin and tonics
- Creating origami animals as garnishes
- Layering wine or port on top of cocktails to add to the aesthetic and taste
- If you really want to push the boat out, get a flavour blaster to add cool flavoured smokes and mist to your party and cocktails
Don’t be afraid to get creative. Try carving fruit into cool and interesting shapes using a small knife or cookie cutter. Maybe the shape ties into your party theme, or special occasion. A great way to always be garnish ready is to freeze small pieces of fruit or fruit juice in ice cube trays. Dehydrating fruit slices, such as oranges, apples, or lemons, in a low-temperature oven is another time-saving hack for serving up 5-star cocktails to any planned or unplanned guests.
Want to really push the boat out? Edible flowers, such as lavender or hibiscus add a subtle floral note to complement other sweet or spicy notes. Delicate blossoms like violets, pansies, and nasturtiums are also entirely edible. Although make sure you source them from a trusted source and give them a quick rinse beforehand.