A drink's appearance has a dramatic impact on its perceived value and marketability. A garnish can make a drink more attractive and appetizing without significantly increasing its cost.
Knowing which drinks require a particular garnish as well as how to prepare and present those garnishes is an important part of bartending. There are many drinks that are not complete without a garnish, such as Gin and Tonic without a squeeze or a Brandy Alexander without a sprinkle of nutmeg.
Many drinks have no right or wrong garnish. This flexibility affords the bartender an opportunity to be creative and transform something ordinary into the extra ordinary. An orange wheel on the rim of a screwdriver, for example, can add flair to an otherwise common mixed drink.
Following are recommended garnishes by drink category, preparation techniques and traditional applications.
Garnishing a Martini isn't an obligation or act of embellishment; it's a creative opportunity. In a cocktail consisting of little more than a spirit and aperitif wine, the garnish essentially becomes another source of flavor and dimension. Pimento-stuffed olives do not circumscribe the garnishing possibilities. This point cannot be stressed enough. Embrace the freedom and live a little. Consider your options, a partial list includes prosciutto-stuffed olives, speared lychees, orange zest spirals, anchovy-wrapped olives, bleu cheese-stuffed olives, spearmint sprigs, kiwi slices, pickled green tomatoes, fresh picked strawberries, sliced cucumbers, and watermelon spears. A thoroughly engaging garnish ensures that the Martini will be as visually appealing as it is delicious.
The final touch to any noteworthy Margarita is the garnish. The classic garnish for the cocktail is a lime wedge, which permits people to add a delightful blast of fresh lime juice to the drink, should they choose to do so. Lime wheels are an attractive addition, but not functional.
There are two mistakes people make when garnishing a Margarita. The first is outfitting the cocktail with a puny lime wedge. Why garnish the cocktail with an inadequate sliver of fruit? What people want is a hefty lime wedge that they can get their hands on to squeeze the fresh juice into their drink.
The second mistake is just dropping the lime wedge into the drink. Do bartenders really expect a guest to fish the lime out of the drink with their fingers? Or what about a bartender who first squeezes the lime wedge before dropping it into the drink? Now there's a crushed piece of fruit staring up at the guest. The appropriate move is to hook the lime wedge on the rim of the glass and allow the guest to do with the garnish as they see fit.
The garnish on a Manhattan is a stemmed maraschino cherry. When devising a specialty Manhattan however, creative latitude goes with the territory. Make sure that the garnish you choose complements the taste and enhances the appearance of the cocktail. Possibilities include Amareno cherries, brandied cherries, orange wedge, and lemon or orange twist spiral.
The lime wedge garnish on a Gimlet accomplishes two objectives. First, and most importantly, it is an additional source of vitamin C. Guests can take the piece of fruit and squeeze the juice into the cocktail if they so choose. It's also interactive and helps people to become more connected to their cocktails.
Secondly, the garnish needs to enhance the appearance of the cocktail, the importance of which should not be underestimated. As in all things, first impressions matter. Take care to use only ample sized wedges of impeccably fresh fruit. An old, dried out piece of fruit floating in a cocktail is unappetizing and creates a poor public impression.
The classic garnishes on a Mojito are mint sprigs and either a lime wheel or wedge. The wedge should be used if you want to provide your guests with an opportunity to squeeze more juice into the drink. If not, the less functional, but more attractive lime wheel might be a better choice.
Many restaurants are adding a segment of sugar cane to their Mojitos. It looks great and performs admirably as a swizzle.
The final touch to any noteworthy Bloody Mary is the garnish. More than a mere embellishment, the garnish should be considered an ingredient in the drink. The embellishments sitting atop a Bloody Mary contribute to both the flavor of the drink and the enhancement of its overall visual appeal. It's hard to overdo it when it comes to garnishes, so don't be stingy, however, do consider how much volume the garnishes will take up in the drink. It's a mistake to add so many finishing touches that the drink overflows its glass.
A fresh lime, or lemon wedge is the other standard garnish on a Bloody Mary. Each adds a delightful citrus tang to the drink. But no need to stop there, optional garnishes include cooked shrimp or prawns, pickled green beans, bleu-cheese stuffed olives, cherry tomatoes, chili pepper rods, sliced bell peppers, speared tomatoes, roasted garlic, cubed cheese, tortilla chips, pepperocinis or small jalapeños peppers.
Many hot coffee creations are finished with a mound of whipped cream. As the whipped cream melts into the coffee, the sweet cream adds another flavor dimension to the drink. Capping coffee specialties with frothed milk in the fashion of a cappuccino is also a delectable option.
Every great signature coffee needs a flourish on top to create a grand impression. Drizzle chocolate syrup over the whipped cream, or dust the layer of frothed milk with powdered cocoa. The same can be said for embellishing these drinks with crumbled brownies or cookies.
Most seasonal fruits make excellent additions in Sangria. Especially suitable are the citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, and limes. Their high acidity offsets the drink's natural sweetness and keeps the other fruit in the drink from discoloring. Also popular are fragrant fruit and berries, such as peaches, nectarines, blackberries, strawberries and pitted cherries, as well as apples, pears, or grapes.
A Sidecar is traditionally presented in a sugar-rimmed glass. There are a number of different ways to adhere the sugar, the most frequent of which is to wet the rim of the glass with water and gently dip it into a saucer of granulated sugar. Substitute grenadine for the water and the sugar rim will turn red. Dipping the glass into any variety of juices to produce sugar rims with different flavors and color. A number of purveyors also market sugars (and salts) in a wide array of colors and flavors just for this very purpose.
One final thought regarding adding sugar to the rim of a cocktail glass. Often the wisest course of action is coating only half of the rim instead of its entirety. That offers the recipient the choice of whether to sip the Sidecar with or without an added blast of sugar.
When using a garnish on any drink, it should always be fresh and attractive. If the rind of a fruit is dry and tough, or if the pulpy side is mushy or falling apart, the garnish should be discarded and new ones prepared.
Lime, lemon and orange wheels are prepared by first making a shallow incision from one end of the fruit to another, cutting through the rind and slightly into the pulp. Next cut the entire fruit into quarter-inch-thick cross sections (the "wheel"). The smaller slices can be discarded. The initial cut length-wise creates a slit that allows the lime wheel to be inserted onto the rim of a glass.
Olives, cocktail onions, and maraschino cherries require little advanced preparation. All perishable garnishes, however, must be properly stored and handled as food items, as well as constantly checked for deterioration.
Round garnishes such as the above should be speared rather than simply dropped into a drink. Health codes require this in order to minimize bartender contact with the fruit.
Lime wedges, "squeezes," are prepared in the following manner. Cut the stem "nub" from the end of the lime and then halve the fruit midway between the two ends. Laying the halves cut-side-down on a cutting board, you then quarter each half (for eight wedges per lime), or cut the halves in half again and then cut three wedges from each of the quarter parts (for twelve wedges per lime). The number of wedges from each lime will depend on the size of the fruit and management's decision regarding minimum size for a lime wedge.
It is considered unprofessional to drop a lime wedge into a drink without first squeezing out the juice. When squeezing the lime, cup your other hand around it to shield the customers or servers from being sprayed by juice.
Lemon twists are prepared in two steps, first removing the rind intact from the fruit and then cutting the rind into thin strips. Begin by cutting off each end of the lemon approximately ¾ inch from the end. The citrus of the lemon should be fully exposed after these cuts. Carefully place the edge of a bar spoon (or the point of an ice pick) between the rind and the fruit at either end of the lemon. Holding the lemon in the palm of one hand, turn it against the spoon or pick while pushing the tool slowly into the fruit. Care must be taken to keep the cutting end out of the fruit and inside the rind. Continue until the spoon emerges from the other end of the lemon.
Next place the lemon on a cutting board, cut the rind end-to-end and remove and discard the core of the fruit. Flatten the rind without tearing it, cutting it into two narrower pieces if necessary. Cut ¼"-wide strips from this flattened rind.
When using a lemon twist, hold the twist in both hands, with the thumbs on the white side and the tips of the index fingers on the yellow side. Aim the rind side of the lemon at the mouth of the glass and gently twist the peel. The twisting motion will force the lemon to release its "essential oils," adding fragrance and flavor to a drink. Caution should be taken not to tear the rind. After twisting, drop the garnish into the drink.
Half-moon orange slices are prepared first by halving an orange midway between the ends and then placing each half cut-side-down on a cutting board. Cut a semi-circle cross-section ("half-moon") every ¼ inch, discarding the end pieces. When placing an orange on the rim of a glass, split at a segment seam and it will easily sit on the glass edge.
Pineapple wedges are made by first cutting off the top and bottom of a whole pineapple and then slicing the fruit into ½ inch cross-sections. Quarter each cross-section to make wedges. Cut a narrow slit at the pointed end of the wedge so the pineapple can be inserted onto the rim of the glass.
Flags are made by spearing a maraschino cherry to the outside of a half-moon orange slice with a plastic pick. The flag garnish is standard on Sours and used often in old fashions. Pineapple flags are made by spearing a cherry to a pineapple wedge.
A list of garnishes and the drinks in which they are most commonly used
|Garnish||Traditional use||Garnish||Traditional use|
|Almond-stuffed olives||Boston Martini||Lime Wheels||Margarita, Sangria, Daiquiri|
|Anchovy-stuffed olives||Boston Martini||Maraschino cherry||Manhattan, Rob Roy,
|Banana slices||Banana Daiquiri/Margarita, Banshee||Mint sprigs||Mint Julep, Florida, Katinka|
|Black olives||Buckeye Martini||Nutmeg||Brandy or Plain Alexander, Royal
|Candy canes||Ice cream drinks,
House Specialties, etc.
|Oranges (half-moons)||Old Fashions, Sours, Stone Sours|
|Celery stalk||Bloody Mary, Bloody Maria||Orange peel twists||Champagne Normande, Café Diablo|
|Chocolate sprinkles||Ice cream drinks,
House Specialties, etc.
|Orchids||Mai Tai (traditional)|
|Cinnamon sticks||Hot Buttered Rum,
Café Diablo, etc.
|Peach slice||Peach Daiquiri, Margarita or Fuzzy Navel|
|Cocktail (pearl) onions||Gibson, Vodka Gibson||Pineapple wedge||Piña Colada, Chi-Chi|
|Coconut flakes||Piña Colada, Chi-Chi||Powdered cocoa||Sprinkled atop whipped cream on chocolate or coffee drinks|
|Coffee beans||Sambuca con Mosca
|Preserved ginger root||English Mule|
|Cookies||Cookies 'n' Cream,
Ice cream drinks
|Salt (rim)||Margarita, Salty Dog, Bloody Mary|
|Cucumber slice||Pimm's Cup, Bloody Mary||Salt and pepper (rim)||Bloody Mary, Bloody Maria|
|Egg yolk||Red Eye||Salted pretzels||Hook onto Beer mug rims|
|Flag (orange)||Old Fashions, Sours,
|Flag (pineapple)||Piña Colada, Chi-Chi||Shaved chocolate||Toasted Almond, also used on whipped cream|
|Green maraschino cherry||Manhattan||Shrimp (peeled)||Bloody Mary,
|Green olives (with pimento)||Martini, Dry Manhattan,
Dry Rob Roy, etc.
|Spiral citrus peels ("horsenecks")||Horse's Neck with a Kick|
|Jalapeño pepper||Cajun Martini||Star Anise||Sambuca or Ouzo
|Kiwi slice||Kiwi Daiquiri, Kiwi Margarita||Star Fruit||Specialty Cocktails|
|Lemon twists||Martini, Perfect Manhattan, Perfect Rob Roy||Strawberries||Strawberry Daiquiri or Margarita|
|Lemon wedges||Long Island Iced Tea||Sugar (rim)||Orange Blossom, Side Car|
|Lemon wheels||Sangria, punches||Watermelon slice||Watermelon Daiquiri|
|Lime wedges (squeezes)||Cuba Libre, Margarita,
Bloody Mary, Gin & Tonic, Vodka & Tonic, etc.
|Whipped cream||Hot drinks, coffee drinks, ice cream drinks|