Guide to Garnishes

Drink garnishes are a lot like jewels with an evening gown. The gown gets the job done perfectly but the jewels add a special touch of delight.

And, just like those jewels, some garnishes are more appropriate for certain drinks than others. Let your bar menu be your guide to garnishes needed. Prepare only what’s appropriate for the drinks you plan to serve and save the rest for another occasion.

Frosting the rims of glasses is a touch that does improve the flavor of the beverage. Margaritas, Bloody Marys, and Salty Dogs (vodka and grapefruit juice) are excellent with salted rims but sweeter concoctions, such as Strawberry Margaritas and fruity Daiquiris are nice when sugar replaces the salt.

To frost a glass, run a wedge of lemon or lime around the edge of the empty glass then dip it into a flat saucer of salt or sugar before adding ice and liquid ingredients. Special frosting trays, available at liquor and bar supply shops, make this job quick, clean, and easy.

Use cocoa powder to frost glasses for Brandy Alexanders and drinks flavored with chocolate and coffee.

Lemons are the most popular garnish so plan on using more of these than any others. They liven up drinks such as highballs with club soda and clear soft drinks and they are classic with most cocktails.

Limes are traditional with gin and tonics and Margaritas. Serve tequila in shot glasses with salted rims and a lime wedge on the side to bite into to soothe the fire of the tequila.

Cut citrus fruits into wedges or slices for most versatility. If using slices, cut through the peel at one spot so you can easily hang it from the rim of the glass.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove long strips of peel (but not the white pith underneath); curl this twist and skewer it with a cocktail toothpick. Twists are good for Martinis, and brown liquors (Scotch, brandy, or whiskey) served in short glasses with a splash of water or club soda.

Orange slices are popular, too, especially with tropical punches, Screwdrivers, and Cosmopolitans. Slices and wedges work just fine but a fine zest sprinkled on the top of a fruity beverage is a nice touch.

Maraschino cherries add a festive touch to fruity beverages and are traditional in Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Tom Collins, and many tropical cocktails.

When Daiquiris and Margaritas are made from their traditional lime-flavored base, they are wonderful but these particular beverages are especially well suited to adding fresh fruits for variety, too. These fruity versions are especially good when served frozen. Garnish these with the fruits that flavor them – fresh strawberries with a Strawberry Daiquiri or Margarita, peach with peach-based drinks, or try black berries, raspberries, apricot, pineapple, or any soft fruit that’s in season.

Martinis are traditionally served with green olives but some Martini aficionados prefer cocktail onions. These onions are great in Gimlets and Gibsons, too.

No Mint Julep earns its name without some fresh mint bruised in the glass with the ice before the bourbon is added. Mint is also a refreshing compliment to icy, lemon-based drinks enjoyed in the summertime and adds the perfect finishing touch to a frozen Grasshopper.

One of the most decorated beverages is the Bloody Mary. A celery stalk is perhaps the most common garnish for this beverage but many bartenders add a lemon, lime, or orange wedge or slice; a skewered chili pepper; cherry tomato; cucumber stick or slice; carrot stick; or any combination of the above.

Tropical drinks such as Pina Coladas, Mai Tais, Hurricanes, Grogs, and the like are more fun with garnishes that include cherries, oranges, and pineapple slices. Cut pineapple slices into thirds or quarters so they don’t overwhelm the glass.

Bananas are perfect accompaniments to tropical drinks, too, but they are usually best omitted. They turn brown and soon look unappetizing if sliced in advance and fresh slices for every drink is too time consuming, especially when the party host is doing double duty as bartender, too.

Hang sliced fruit from the rim of the glass. Skewer the other fruit garnishes on toothpicks that can be rested atop the rim of the glass or set inside the glass, as long as the toothpick isn’t submerged. When more than one skewered fruit is used, put them together on just one toothpick. Have skewers make up before the party starts. Place sticks into the glass but make sure these, too, are taller than the beverage is deep so they can be handled without going fishing.

Coffee beans are an indispensable addition to Sambuca and nutmeg is expected with Egg Nogs, Brandy Alexanders, and many warm drinks.

Creativity counts with garnishes, just like it does with jewelry, so have some fun here. The best garnishes complement the flavors of the beverage but don’t distract from them.