How to Pretty Up Bar Drinks with Garnishes

Garnishes, those little decorations that add color or flavor to a drink, can make or break a cocktail in your bar. What’s a Bloody Mary without a crisp and cool celery spear? Or a gin and tonic without a lime or three? In some cases the garnish defines the cocktail (the difference between a Gibson and a martini is the cocktail onion, after all).

The most important point to remember about your garnishes is that they should be fresh and clean. Use your imagination to decide what garnish you put with what drink, but always consider price and freshness.

It may be a great idea to garnish every Bloody Mary with a skewer of marinated vegetables and deli meats, like a little antipasto on a stick. But if the cost of the garnish eats into your profit margin, you can’t serve it for long!

How to use citrus fruit as garnishes

Citrus fruits can garnish anything from a Long Island iced tea to a wheat beer. Here are a few common cuts of many of your favorite citrus fruits and how to use them:

  • Wedges: A wedge is a section of a citrus fruit, usually one-eighth of the fruit, sliced lengthwise. Here are the basic steps to create wedges:

    1. Slice the fruit in half the long way.

      If you commonly hang your wedges on the edge of a glass, go ahead and cut a notch in them now. Make a small cut the short way across the inside of each half at this point. Make sure you don’t completely cut through the fruit’s peel or you’ll cut the wedges in half, rather than notching them.

    2. Lay the cut halves down (peel side up) and halve them the long way again.

    3. Cut each of those halves the long way to create eight wedges total.

      [Credit: © John Wiley & Sons, Inc.]
      Credit: © John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Wheels: A wheel is a full circle of fruit, placed on the edge of a glass. You make wheels simply by cutting the ends off the citrus fruit, and then slicing the fruit the short way to the desired thickness. Make a cut from the middle of the fruit slice to one side to create a slit to hang the fruit on the rim of the glass.

  • Squeezes: A squeeze is very similar to a wedge, but smaller. In fact, it’s half the size. Make wedges, and then cut those wedges in half the short way. Rather than hanging on the side of a glass, a squeeze is squeezed into the cocktail by the bartender, and then dropped in the drink.

  • Twists: A twist is a small piece of the peel of a citrus fruit. Here are the basics:

    1. Cut off both ends of the fruit.

    2. Insert a sharp knife or spoon between the rind and the meat of the fruit and carefully separate them.

    3. Cut the rind into strips.

      [Credit: © John Wiley & Sons, Inc.]
      Credit: © John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Other must-have garnishes

To make a perfect cocktail, you must have the perfect garnish. Many garnishes are traditional, but innovative barkeeps can use their creativity to exceed the patron’s expectation. Add the ribbon on the package; it always helps to garnish your cocktail because it upgrades the appearance and makes for a complete presentation.

Here’s our list of other basic garnishes and how you can use them:

  • Flags: A flag is a maraschino cherry wrapped in an orange slice and then stabbed with a sword to hold it all together. Use flags to garnish things like Amaretto Sours.

  • Olives and olive juice: Olives are the traditional garnish for martinis. Add a little olive juice to make a martini “dirty.”

  • Celery: It’s a garnish and stir stick in one! Use these to garnish Bloody Marys and the host of related drinks like Bloody Bulls, Bloody Caesars, and so on.

  • Onions: This garnish is the differentiating factor between a martini and a Gibson.

  • Mint: Whether you muddle it for a Mojito or use it to top off a Razzberry Lemonade, this herb is becoming a must-have for many bars.

  • Cherries: When all else fails, toss a cherry in it.

  • Strawberries: Notch these superfoods and hang them on the edge of anything fruity.

Rimming: Why, when, and how to do it

Rimming is coating the rim of a glass with a granular or crumb-like substance as a garnish. It adds a decorative touch that improves the presentation of the cocktail and complements its flavor. The most basic example of rimming is using salt on the rim of a margarita.

Bartenders are becoming much more creative with rimming choices (using goodies like cocoa, graham-cracker crumbs, or shaved coconut), but the most common rimmers are sugar and kosher salt. Prime cocktail candidates for rimming include margaritas and martinis, but that’s not an absolute rule.

You can used toasted coconut to grace the rim of a piña colada, salt on a Bloody Mary or Salty Dog, or superfine sugar on the edge of a screwdriver. Your imagination is your only limitation.

Here are the basic steps for rimming a glass:

  1. Moisten the rim of the glass.

    Choose a complementary flavor to enhance the cocktail. Many people choose a lime wedge or triple sec to rim a margarita, or Kahlua to rim a chocolate martini, for example.

  2. Dip the moistened rim into whatever you want to coat the glass with. Gently turn the glass as you coat it to ensure you coat it evenly.

  3. Shake off any excess.

  4. Fill the glass with your cocktail.

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