Garnishing Basics

Do you really need to garnish?


Garnishing is often seen as the most challenging part of the mixology puzzle but have no fear we are here to help you.

So, you have made a cocktail. Do you call it a day after adding ice to the glass or are you deciding what to do as the finishing touch. Often with soda filled drinks ice is enough but the trend is growing towards garnishing everything that’s in a cup, bowl or plate. From your morning latte to a glass of wine dehydrated citrus wheels are “the go” so let’s take the easy path and accept the following premises in Mixology

  1. A traditional cocktail isn’t truly complete until the garnish has been added. But what garnish how much and where to place it are important elements of a delicious drink.
  2. All garnishes should be functional. That means they must have a concrete impact on the drink’s flavour, aroma or texture. This is referred to as a “service element.”


Garnishes Customise your Glass


Consider garnishes the same way you would use condiments to customize a meal. Garnish is a bartender’s main tool to give extra input on the taste of their drink. But at home do you really need to go to all the trouble?

Sometimes the effort seems disproportionate to the other ingredients in the drink. Garnishes after all are often simply fruit or leaves. But consider that even a bit of fruit or a twist of lemon can add a final flourish, eye candy if you will and aromas that stimulate the palette. Garnishing for aroma is basically a bartender’s tool to create the same experience in a cocktail that winemakers create in a glass. Garnishes deliver flavour and elevate base ingredients and say to us- I am ready! come drink me!


Garnishing for Flavour


The most common examples of garnishes are the ubiquitous lime or lemon wedges placed on the rim of most drinks or inside a Corona beer bottle. Far from pointless, their purpose is to give the drinker the ability to regulate the level of acidity and sourness of the drink to taste. If you prefer your Daiquiri on the sweeter side, discard the lime on the rim. If you favour a tart, sour drink, it’s within your power to decide how much extra juice you’d like to squeeze in. This is also why wedges are always preferable to wheels when it comes to lemon or lime garnish. Always.

Olives, cocktail onions, cherries, berries and other “snackable” garnishes also fall in this service camp. They allow drinkers to refresh and reawaken their palates by alternating sips with different flavours eaten from the cocktail stick. Fruit and savoury garnishes are tailored to accentuate the cocktail’s flavour profile. This helps prevent flavour numbness, where the effect of alcohol and sipping the same drink over the span of 10 or 15 minutes can make the second half of the cocktail taste muted. A dry martini is never as tasty without a partner in crime the briny olive or citrus twist

When garnishing a dirty martini with olives make sure to place thee “3” on a skewer. One will be consumed after the first sip and the remaining two to brine the cocktail and look chic. Change olives for jalapeno peppers when your drinking Tequila or maraschino cherries when sipping on a Cosmopolitan, Manhattan or Side Car.


Garnishes that focus on Aroma


Rum cocktails are always garnished with a large bouquet of mint. The garnish’s purpose is to ensure that when you bring the glass to your mouth to sip, you’re inhaling mint as the other ingredients hit your tongue. This opens up the nasal passages and creates a refreshing, tropical vibe in the back of the mouth- better than if the mint were mixed directly into the drink.

This interplay of smell and taste. Garnishing for aroma is basically a bartender’s tool to create the same experience in a cocktail that winemakers create in a glass.

A standard martini is garnished with a lemon twist. This step should never be skipped over as the peel adds aroma. When you twist a lemon peel over the top of a cocktail, you express its essential oils, which the float on top of the drink. In short, you’re adding an ingredient that’s perceived primarily on the nose, rather than in the mouth. This opens a new dimension of combinations that allows you to experiment with the interplay between what a person smells versus what they taste. A thick citrus strip is required for this


Garnishing for Show


We are truly in Tiki territory now! We drink with our eyes before we drink with our mouths. Throw a little extra flair into a non-functional garnish and you’ll shape a person’s opinion of how the drink will taste before they even get around to sipping it. Garnishes that usually fall under this umbrella are flower petals, pineapple leaves, passionfruit shells, apple pinwheels, berries skewed onto a rosemary sprig, swizzle sticks, and tiny umbrellas! Garnishing for the glory and the glorious-YES!!


Tools of the Trade


Simply knowing how to cut citrus peel so you get the bright zest and not the bitter pith is a skill that needs practise. Purchasing a peeler with a channelling tool to make the perfect lemon curls is a must for martinis and champagne cocktails.

Dried rose petals and buds are easy enough to pretty up a gin balloon and reasonably easy to find in your local health food store. I get mine from the wholefood merchants in Ferntree Gully. Shaved ice, grated chocolate and cinnamon dust are the icing on the cake so to speak!

Knowing how to fix lime wedges on the glass rim so your guest can easily squeeze the juice into their drink would make you the real deal. Placing gherkins olives and lemon wedges on a skewer for a Bloody Mary is a joy to behold. When done correctly adding the aesthetic component to your cocktail or mocktail creates theatre mood and helps all the other elements in the drink to shine.


Practise Makes Perfect


Beyond a few tools it is only practise that is required. Check your kitchen drawer for a paring knife vegetable peeler narrow and large Y shaped peeler for wide strips which can be twisted over the cocktail to release the aromatic oils and thrown into the glass for a burst of colour, box grater with micro plane for fine zest that can be arranged on top of a pile of shaved ice. I also use a channelling tool which has a U shape blade which creates long uniform strips of citrus which can be curled and twisted into tight spirals

In order to transform citrus into satisfactory garnish we have added a video link here to get you started


Final Words


Always looks to add some garden freshness to your glass. Using garnishes will immediately add a pop of colour and aroma. Try citrus for acidity and freshness, herbs like rosemary and thyme for savoury notes and lavender and rose for floral notes. Always make sure to give the herbs a good smack to break open the cells to release their aromas.

Are you ready to put all this information has helped jump start your imagination.

Let nature’s pantry be your muse – fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, flowers and buds -nothing is off limits to add beauty and splendour to your glass. You can salt your limes wheels or soak them in rum so it can be set alight in the glass. Better still if you are looking for some smoke and theatre grab a sprig of rosemary and light it up. The smell is amazing, and the smoke adds complexity to whisky.

Time to grab a lemon and start your garnishing journey. Happy Days!!!




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