How to Garnish a Cocktail

Cocktails are garnished to give them wonderful visual appeal and superb flavor. Many cocktails are not complete without a garnish, and a drink may only become a specific, famous cocktail after it has been properly garnished. There are many different kinds of cocktail garnishes, which can be placed on the rim of the glass, floated on the drink, or merely placed in the drink. A certain artistry is involved in their preparation and placement.


  1. Image titled Garnish a Cocktail Step 1
    Obtain the proper garnishing tools. Most garnishes can be made with a paring knife, but it is helpful to have a channel knife tool and a grater. A larger knife may be needed if larger fruits are to be prepared, such as oranges and pineapples. Channel knife tools are used to make twists and spirals from citrus fruits, while a grater enables one to grate ingredients such as chocolate and nutmeg fresh right over the cocktail. A grater can also be used to grate ingredients that are used for rimming glasses. A combination of different garnishes can be used, so have the tools ready for the types of garnishes that are to be made.
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    Decide what kinds of garnishes should be used. The cocktail recipe will usually call for a certain garnish, but this is not always the case. Different garnishes can be used according to personal preference, and combinations of multiple garnishes can be used.
    • Citrus garnishes are generally great for cocktails that do not contain milk or cream, although there are creamy cocktails that call for citrus garnishes such as orange spirals.
    • Maraschino cherries complement many different types of cocktails, but should never be used in certain cocktails, such as a standard martini. Many garnishes complement one of the primary cocktail ingredients.
    • A pear slice is used to garnish an Asian Pear Martini, and a Razzmopolitan is garnished with raspberries. Tomato-based cocktails are generally garnished with limes, lemons and celery stalks. Always consider how the garnish will complement the flavor of the primary ingredients.
    • Vodka-based cocktails tend to pair well with lemon and lime flavors, tequila and rum pair well with limes, rum can pair well with mint, chocolate pairs with crème de cacao liqueur, and coffee beans complement coffee liqueur. Also consider the overall theme of the drink. Tropical cocktails may use tropical fruits, and dessert cocktails may use cookies or chocolate. A cocktail that uses spiced rum may be garnished with a cinnamon stick.
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    Rim the glass. The rim of the empty glass can be coated with garnishes such as fine sugar, salt, cocoa powder, finely grated chocolate and finely crushed graham crackers or cookies. To coat the rim of a glass, first spread or mound the garnish ingredient on a small plate or tray, then briefly rub around the rim of the glass with something such as a lemon wedge to moisten it. The garnish will adhere to the area that is moistened. Then lay the glass on its side so that the rim is touching the garnish, and rotate or roll the glass on the garnish so that the entire rim is coated. The glass can also just be placed upside down on the rimming ingredient and rotated somewhat to coat the rim. Additional garnishes may be added to cocktails that are served in rimmed glasses.
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    Prepare standard or simple garnishes. Garnishes generally need to be prepared before the cocktail is mixed. Common, relatively simple garnishes for cocktails include maraschino cherries as well as citrus wedges, wheels, twists and spirals. Olives, cocktail onions and celery stalks are also commonly used for certain drinks.
    • Wheels are made by simply slicing a fruit widthwise. The ends of the fruit are disposed of, and the slices should be about 1/4" thick. To make wedges, first cut off and dispose of the ends of the fruit, then slice the fruit into eight wedges. Start by cutting the fruit in half from one cut end to the other (lengthwise). Then slice each half lengthwise (in half) to produce four wedges, then slice each of the four wedges in half lengthwise to produce the eight wedges. Make a single slice in the middle area of the meat of the wedges and halfway through wheels (from the edge to the center) with a paring knife and stick them onto the rim of the glass. Also coat wedges and spirals in fine sugar.
    • Spirals can be dangled from the rim of the glass. Twists are twisted, bent or rolled to release the citrus skin oils and to give them their characteristic shape, then dropped into the drink. Twists can be about an inch or more long, while spirals can be a few or more inches long. Twists and spirals can both be made relatively easily with a channel knife tool. Try making twists by running the channel knife tool lengthwise along a lemon (or other citrus fruit), and make spirals by running the channel knife around a lemon. Twists and spirals can also be made by cutting the rind of a citrus fruit into strips with a paring knife.
    • Garnishes such as cherries, cocktail olives and cocktail onions can be speared with toothpicks and rested on the rim of the glass or merely dropped into the drink and allowed to rest on the bottom of the glass, especially if the drink is not opaque. If multiple such fruits are going to be used to garnish one cocktail, it is best to spear them together with a toothpick.
    • For an easy but attractive garnish, rest a sprig of mint on the glass rim or on the drink. Cinnamon sticks can simply be rested on the rim of the glass or placed vertically in the drink.
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    Prepare more elaborate or exotic garnishes. Use a toothpick to stick together different fruits to make fruit "flags" and "boats". Flags are stuck onto the rim of the glass, with one fruit stuck on top of another. Boats essentially rest against the rim and on or partially in the drink, but are not stuck onto the rim of the glass. However, a boat garnish can rest on the rim of the glass with the help of a toothpick. An orange and cherry boat is made by placing a cherry on the center of an orange wheel and bending the slice somewhat around the cherry like a taco. A toothpick is inserted through the orange slice and the cherry to keep the slice curved like a boat around the cherry. Use boats with frothy cocktails. Try using fruits such as pineapples, bananas, kiwis and berries when making fruit flags. Leave fruits unpeeled when slicing them into garnishes such as wheels. Strawberries and other fruits can be dipped in melted chocolate and placed on the rim of the glass.
    • To make a chocolate-dipped strawberry that can be placed on the rim of a glass, first melt some chocolate, then carefully dip the strawberry in the chocolate and allow the extra chocolate to drip off. The chocolate should be allowed to cool and solidify somewhat so that is doesn't drip down the glass. Set the strawberry down on parchment paper or wax paper for a short period of time, or keep it suspended vertically so that the chocolate drips downward evenly and forms an even coating. When the chocolate has become stable but is still somewhat gooey, make a vertical slice in the bottom of the strawberry through the chocolate-dipped part, and place it on the rim of the glass. If the chocolate has been allowed to solidify completely, it may crack and break off somewhat when the strawberry is sliced and placed on the rim. The strawberry can be placed on an empty glass before straining or pouring the drink, and try chilling the glass and/or the strawberry first so that the chocolate solidifies rapidly.
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    Garnish the prepared cocktail. Right after mixing the cocktail, garnish the cocktail as called for by the recipe or as desired.
    • Sprinkle ingredients such as cocoa powder and ground cinnamon on top of the cocktail. Grate or zest ingredients such as dark chocolate, nutmeg and citrus fruits fresh right over the cocktail. Cocktails made with hot coffee or hot chocolate (usually referred to as "warmers"), such as Irish Cream Coffee and Black Forest Hot Chocolate may be topped with whipped cream, and then garnished with grated chocolate, cocoa powder or a maraschino cherry.
    • You can also float the garnish on the surface of the cocktail. Float coffee beans on frothy cocktails. Also float citrus spirals and thin fruit wheels (such as apple wheels) on various cocktails, not just frothy ones.
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  • Always have garnishes prepared and ready before making cocktails.
  • Always use fresh, sanitary ingredients for garnishes, as the garnishes are foods and are meant to be consumed.
  • Practice making the garnishes before making actual cocktails.
  • There are many variations on certain cocktail recipes, and garnishes will vary according to the recipe.


  • Knives and other garnishing tools are sharp and may cause injury if not handled properly and with care.
  • No matter what kind of knife you are using, always make sure it's sharp. A dull knife tends to do more harm than good.

Things You'll Need

  • Garnishing tools (grater, paring knife, channel knife tool for citrus spirals)
  • Various garnishes (depending on your drinks)-maraschino cherries, citrus fruits, etc.

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