Garnishing 101

When you are garnishing your cocktails, you are in complete control of what flavors you want to bring out. However, garnishing doesn’t have to be left to the professionals. In fact, there are dozens of ways to easily spruce up your favorite cocktail.
May 9, 2022

Garnishing cocktails is the best way to elevate your bartending skills using ingredients you already have!

When you order a cocktail, it should be garnished with something simple that highlights and compliments the intended tasting notes. A slight shock to your taste buds as your lips meet a lime-salted rim, the spray of citrus from an orange peel, or a heavenly drip of cherry syrup swirling to the bottom of the glass. These simple additions create a  complete  cocktail experience unlike any other. A thoughtfully executed garnish adds a level of appeal to any cocktail, but those pretty additions have significance beyond just the aesthetic. Garnishes add a level of aromatics and flavor to your drink in subtle ways.

When you are garnishing your cocktails, you are in complete control of what flavors you want to bring out. However, garnishing doesn’t have to be left to the professionals. In fact, there are dozens of ways to easily spruce up your favorite cocktail. Keep reading for some of our favorite garnishing techniques that not only look good but compliment your favorite drinks in unexpected ways. 

Fruit Never Fails

When teaching yourself how to aesthetically and purposefully garnish, a helpful tip is to pay attention to which fruits are in season as they make for some of the best garnishes. Likewise, it’s important to consider seasonality for spirits, liqueurs, and other mixers as you decide what to make. Everyone loves a good seasonal drink and the changing seasons allow us to craft new combinations and old classics throughout the year.

One of the most common cocktail garnishes is the citrus twist, and it’s easy to pull off: gently peel off a strip of your desired citrus fruit using a vegetable peeler or a sharp knife. Watch as the aromatic citrus oils spray from the peel as you twist the rind over your cocktail with the peel-side facing outward. Adding citrus oil not only enhances the flavors of the cocktail, but it can cut through some of the sweetness of any syrups or liqueurs that are mixed in to bring natural flavors to the forefront of your tastebuds. A citrus peel can be used as an aesthetic finishing touch, and it works perfectly as a stand-alone addition for balance when paired with your desired spirit on the rocks.

Besides citrus peels, you can also use a plethora of fruits to add fresh flavors and a beautiful aroma. Some of our favorite examples of fruit garnishes are: 

  • Citrus fruits cut into slices, wedges, or wheels to sit pretty on the rim of your cocktail.
  • Pineapples cut into wedges or chunks to freely float in your drink.
  • Cocktail cherries - a classic finisher and their juice adds satisfying sweetness.
  • Melon cut into wedges or scooped into balls. This seasonal fruit is a great finisher for a summertime drink.
  • Dragon fruit balls add a beautiful color stain to your cocktail. The redder the dragon fruit, the sweeter and juicier it will taste.
  • Passion fruit can be cut in half and floated on top of the drink for a fun-to-look-at garnish that tastes sweet too.  
  • Cucumber cut into wedges, chunks, or ribbons for a hydrating and refreshing taste. 
  • Coconut cut into chunks, strips or other shapes adds an interesting texture that is unmatched.
  • Apple, pear, or peach can be cut thinly to craft a fruit flower or can be cut into slices or chunks to float freely.
  • Berries either free-floating or skewered add color and some syrupy flavor.
  • Dried fruits such as apricots soaking in your cocktail will exude a sweet syrup as you sip away.

If you like a spicy margarita or another type of spicy cocktail, try one of these methods with jalapeños or habaneros -- only if you can handle the heat!

Herbs Spice It Up

Did you know that our sense of smell makes up about 80% of what we taste? Adding herbs and spices as a cocktail garnish is an excellent way to elevate the nose of the drink and thus, the taste. The leaves of herbs can make your cocktail look lush and the symmetry of the leaf patterns attracts the eye. Adding a fresh sprig of mint, rosemary, thyme, or lavender adds a cool freshness to the palate. Some other popular leafy garnishes include basil, shiso, wood sorrel, hibiscus leaves, amaranth leaves, and pineapple leaves. 

You’ve seen muddled mint leaves in the bottom of mojitos and other cocktails, but the real secret to activation is to agitate the herb by slapping or clapping the leaves between your palms or onto a hard, flat surface to bring out the aroma and flavor. Don’t go overboard because herbs pack more flavor after they are activated than you may expect.

Botanical Beauty

*A quick disclaimer before we dive into flower garnishes: do your research when it comes to flower garnishing. Although they look pretty, there are many flowers that are not safe to consume, especially sitting in a bath of alcohol. 

There’s a wide variety of edible flowers that can be homegrown, bought online, or at a local market. Choose your flower garnishes based on flavor, aroma, or sheer beauty; it’s up to you! Some edible flowers that happen to double as beautiful garnishes are roses, orchids, pansies, lavender, carnations, and herb blossoms. Using botanicals as a garnish is a simple and flawless way to finish off any cocktail. The aromatic and complex florals compliment light-bodied spirits best!

The Flame

Using fire to embellish your cocktail is easier than it sounds. A simple method is to run your garnish (such as an orange peel) through the flame to caramelize it. You can also try setting the tip of an herb sprig on fire and letting it smoke out as it settles on the top of your drink. This will add the wow factor and a smoky, sweet flavor that wasn’t there before. Using fire as your finishing garnish works best with heavier-bodied liquors because of how it brings forth notes of wood, ash, and smoke. Using this technique during the colder months is a way to make sure your drink leaves you feeling warm all over.

The Perfect Middle Ground

Our spirit is versatile and can be used as the main staple for many of your favorite cocktails. It is true that our memories and emotions are wrapped up in our senses. As long as you have a bottle of Wheyward Spirits in stock along with your preferred rotation of garnishes, you’ll be set with endless flavors waiting to be discovered. You can kick vodka, gin, and rum from your usual cocktail go-to list: there's a new spirit in town.