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Aug. 6, 2021
From simple and elegant to fabulous and festive, a well-placed garnish can take a cocktail from nice drink to culinary experience.
While garnishes enhance flavour, aroma and visual appeal, they don’t need to be complicated or fussy to create maximum impact. With a little creativity and an understanding of a few types of cocktail garnishes, you can make any drink a feast for the senses.
When considering how to garnish a cocktail, fruits and vegetables provide several easy and elegant options.
Tip: While fruit and vegetable garnishes can be eaten, if they have strong flavours like citrus or spicy peppers, you may want to wait until the end of the drink so they don’t overpower the other flavours in the cocktail.
Herbs are versatile flavour and aroma agents that pair well with sweet and savoury flavour profiles. Mint, basil and even dill, to name a few, brighten cocktails and perk up the senses. Herbs like rosemary and thyme also make aromatic skewers for fruit and cocktail stirrers that impart flavour. For a sweet, herbaceous flavour pairing in a light cocktail, try the Ginger Julep. It’s sure to please even the most demanding palates.
Flowers make an elegant statement. Just make sure they’re safe to eat before adding them to your cocktail. Roses, orchids, pansies and fragrant lavender are some of the more popular flower choices, and any of them will take the Butterfly Martini Cocktail over the top. The Black Orchid Cocktail, unsurprisingly, is best served with an edible orchid.
The leaves from the fruit used in a cocktail can also make a beautiful garnish. Lime leaves are beautiful, and pineapple fronds, for example, can be trimmed and placed in the glass for a stunning presentation in cocktails like the Moscow Mule.
Rimming glasses with infused salts and sugars is a well-established adornment to many cocktails. Garnishing with key ingredients like coffee beans is also a quintessential flourish as shown in the
Grey Goose Espresso Martini Cocktail.
But mixologists are pushing the edible envelope even further. Cocktails are increasingly becoming culinary playgrounds with bolder garnishes. Stuffed olives, pickled ingredients and even dried or fried garnishes can add texture and bulk up a drink. Who’s hungry for more?
Is ice even a garnish? Yes, it can be! Although ice plays a functional role, it can certainly add to the visual appeal and enjoyment of a cocktail. Herbed ice cubes and cubes of frozen juices can provide striking visual and flavour elements.
The shape and size of ice can add both form and function to a drink’s aesthetics. Large ice cubes take longer to melt and won’t dilute the drink as quickly, but they also look stunning in the glass. Long ice rods can create an elegant look while lots of shaved ice can enhance a tropical vibe and provide dilution for sweeter drinks. Crushed ice is perfect for the French Hawaiian.
Objet d’art (as we sometimes call fancy things for fun) can set the tone and make a visual statement. Bamboo skewers, metal stirrers and other functional items can also provide a touch of beauty.
While glassware isn’t technically a garnish, it can add drama and whimsy. Tiki themed mugs, fancy flutes and vintage glassware add flair and interest. And don’t forget to share the love with batch cocktails. Dress them up in fun pitchers and festive punch bowls. It’s not about using expensive items, but interesting pieces that can spark conversation. Thrift stores are great sources for affordable, one-of-a-kind serving sets.
The best cocktail garnishes are not afterthoughts, or mere nice-to-haves. They create anticipation and give a hint of what’s to come. They communicate volumes through color, shape, size and texture. With a little forethought — and the right at-home bartending skills — it’s easy to turn your cocktails into delicious works of art.