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A quick and easy guide to cocktail garnishes

Posted by Chloe Papas on Feb 14, 2017 9:05:00 AM

Cocktail garnishes. These little additions to an alcoholic beverage may seem like an afterthought, but they are actually carefully designed to add flavor or character to a drink.

From a sprinkle of sugar around the rim of the glass, to a twist, olive, or wedge of fruit, the options are endless – but should you be adding garnishes at your bar? And how do you match a garnish with a drink?

Don’t worry, we’re here to help with a cocktail garnish guide. Pull up a chair, grab a drink, and take a few notes.

So, Why Garnish?


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You have already created a perfect cocktail, and it’s looking absolutely delicious and ready to drink. So why add anything else to it?

The answer is: the finishing touch. The garnish in a cocktail is like parmesan on top of pasta, or dressing on top of a salad – the drink isn’t quite complete without it. It often adds a small hit of flavor to balance out the drink, or simply enhances it with a point of difference.

The smallest garnish can change the taste, smell and character of a cocktail. Making cocktails is an art form, and the top bartenders in the world consider garnishes to be serious business – the final step in the presentation of a drink.


Edible Garnishes


Citrus and Fruits

Twists, strips and the skin of citrus fruits are often used as an easy garnish, as the style that you can mould them into is diverse and they work with many different types of cocktails.

Many bartenders will use cherries as a simple garnish, or get a little creative with different types of fruit – a carefully placed watermelon wedge in summer, an apple wedge in a martini, a stick of celery in a Bloody Mary.

Mint and Other Herbs

Mint is typically placed at the top of a cocktail to add aroma and flavor to a drink that may already contain mint; mojitos are a good example. Those who are a little more experienced may experiment with other herbs – a sprig of coriander or rosemary – to bring out certain flavors and add a firm kick to a cocktail.

Sugar and Salt

Most people will have had a cocktail that features sugar or salt coated around the rim of the glass. Salt works well with tequila-based cocktails, and sugar works well with many different beverages; either to add sweetness to an already sugary drink, or to offset a sour cocktail.

Olives and Onions

Olives are a classic cocktail garnish, generally used with gin-based cocktails like martinis. They add an extra flavor to the drink that can’t be replicated. Onions may seem like a bit of a strange one, but many bartenders still use cocktail onions in the place of an olive in martinis.

Cream and Sweet Treats

Using whipped cream, nutmeg, cinnamon, and even lollies or sprinkles are reserved for dessert cocktails. They are usually milky and contain spirits like Kahlua or Baileys.

Non-Edible Garnishes


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Garnishes that can’t be eaten are usually reserved for venues with certain themes. They are a playful way to jazz up a drink. Give a nod to the ‘80s with a colorful cocktail umbrella, add themed straws, decorate with a flag for a national day, or use beads or plastic animals or swizzle sticks. The opportunities for creativity are endless. 

Non-edible garnishes are a great way to bring a bit of entertainment to your venue when you’re holding a special event. New Year’s Eve celebration? Add some sparklers (and ask your customers to be careful!). Mardi Gras party? Throw a rainbow flag in there.


Garnishes That Are a Little-Bit-Out-There

Want to really impress your customers, or become known for your unique presentation? Add a little fire to your cocktails. Now we’re not trying to say you should test this one out if you’re a beginner – and even if you are feeling confident, you may want to check your bar’s safety guidelines. But you can turn one of your cocktails into a flaming beverage by combining the right amount of liquids and a safe flame, or by setting a citrus garnish alight. Adding a flame to your cocktails will give customers a thrill – and create a distinct taste. 

If fire is a little too dangerous, flip the coin and use ice to build unique garnishes. Freeze fruit or citrus into large ice blocks, use quirky ice tray shapes to add a different touch, or even freeze candy into your ice to value-add to your cocktails.

There are hundreds of different garnishes out there to trial with your cocktails, and using garnishes is a great way to look like a pro and add a little extra something to your beverages.

The best part is, there are no set rules when it comes to garnishes – so you can experiment with different variations and new creations to your heart’s content!

Good luck – and happy garnishing.


Show us your amazing cocktail creations. Tag us on Instagram (@asktypsy) – and we'll regram our favorites! 


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