The garnishing of cocktails goes back far—very far. The first garnishes could have been the flowers that Romans floated atop their wine, or maybe the pieces of spiced toast drifting in punches during the 17th century. Today, we have a largely standard set of citrus wedges, sticks of vegetables and fruit, as well as ovoid vegetation that are squeezed, stuck and dropped into our cocktails. Here are some of the most important ones.
In general, clear base spirits get lime, brown spirits get lemon and punch-style drinks get orange. When in doubt, consider how best to complement the drink. For instance, Campari’s main flavor is bitter orange, so use an orange twist for your next Negroni.
Citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges are the Triple Crown of garnishing fruit. All three are used for twists, wedges and wheels and have affinities for different kinds of drinks. Twists are used for the aromatic oil they release when twisted or squeezed edge to edge. Twists should be cut wide (about ¾ of an inch) with very little pith.
Wedges should be squeezed by the bartender, not just dropped in. Wheels should be reserved for use with oranges because lemon and lime wheels on a glass are too hard for anyone to squeeze and can’t be eaten.
The much-maligned Maraschino cherry is suitable for, and even expected as, the garnish for a good number of classic drinks, most famously the Manhattan. Make sure to buy and use only the ones that have stems still attached, for the guest’s convenience.
With the proliferation of new Tiki bars around the country, pineapple is becoming newly popular. It should be peeled first.
Any number of cocktail olives will work well in a classic gin or vodka Martini. Pitted green olives are fine and black olives don’t have the same peppery flavor and don’t look quite right. And no matter how upscale you want to portray your bar, never ever use olives with pits unless you want to be responsible for a bunch of dental repair bills.
Celery sticks should be fresh, with or without their leaves. They should also be tall enough to stick above the rim of the Bloody Mary glass, but not so long and bushy as to imitate a small forest.
Freshness is the most important part. Every garnish used at your bar must be of the highest quality and impeccably fresh. Freshly cut citrus fruit, bright green celery leaves and plump cherries are all harbingers of a good cocktail coming your way. ·
Step by Step
1. Freshness! Never cut more garnishes than you need for one service.
2. Make it easier for the guest. Squeeze the lime; leave the stem on the cherry.
3. Match the garnish to the flavor profile of the drink. If the sour citrus is lime, use a lime.
4. Or, match the flavor profile of the predominant spirit or liqueur. If you are using orange-flavored vodka garnish the drink with an orange twist or slice.
5. Flame citrus twists using a lit match (not a lighter) for an exciting presentation and to caramelize the oils. Believe me, it sells more drinks.