Cocktail Garnishes – the “cherry on the bun”

Cocktail Garnishes – the “cherry on the bun”

Cocktail Garnish

Cocktails and garnishes go hand in hand, like Minnie & Mickey, Bacon & Eggs and Gin & Tonic. From a Bloody Mary to a classic Mint Julep, cocktail garnishes can add the X factor to most cocktails and, in some cases, make a difference to both appearance AND taste. From maraschino cherries to a well prepared lemon twist garnish, there are many types of garnish options available but remember it is important to use the right garnish for the right cocktail and only use fresh ingredients. Also, resist the urge to go overboard when garnishing your cocktails, people are still wanting to receive a drink, not a miniature forest!

The type of garnish best suited for a drink is often linked to the alcohol base of the cocktail. Whiskey and brandy-based drinks often tend to have minimal garnishing such as the Brandy Alexander, with its sprinkling of nutmeg and sometimes they require none at all, such as the Rusty Nail cocktail. Vodka and gin-based cocktails, such as the classic Martini or the Bronx cocktail, will tend to go with a lemon twist garnish or sometimes consider maraschino cherries. Many rum-based cocktails, particularly those with fruit flavours, tend to go with more elaborate, often tropical-themed cocktail garnishes, such as the Mai-Tai and Pina Colada, which both use pineapple garnishes.

Below we take a look at some of the most popular garnishes used in cocktail making today


Lemons are probably the most widely used garnish in cocktail making and can be prepared in slices, wedges or an attractive lemon twist garnish. They are used in many cocktails such as the Tom Collins and the Gin Fizz. To create lemon wedges, you begin by cutting off the ends of the lemon and then cut the lemon in half from one end to the other. You then cut each half of the lemon into four equal wedges.

To create a lemon twist garnish, you again begin by cutting off the ends of the lemon, but this time you cut the rind from one end to the other making 1/3 inch strips, ensuring that you don’t cut into the flesh of the fruit. You then peel off the strips. To add a little extra zest to the cocktail, rub the rim of the glass with the twist and then drop it into the glass. This will release the oils of the lemon. When you create any type of garnish, particularly from a citrus fruit, make sure you do it fresh, as a lemon wedge that has been sitting around has the potential to spoil the whole drink.



Limes have become increasingly popular as cocktail garnishes and are used to garnish popular cocktails such as the Pisco Sour, Moscow Mule and the Cuba Libre. Limes are very similar to lemons, only that they are green and have a slightly more mellow flavour. Similar to lemons they can be used as slices, wedges or twists and the preparation is the same as above. Limes are also popularly prepared as lime wheels for garnishing cocktails such as the Silver Ghost.


maraschino cherries

Maraschino Cherries

Maraschino cherries have an almost legendary connection with cocktails, carried along by several iconic movie and TV scenes, and from the Manhattan cocktail to the Brandy Smash they are undoubtedly one of the most popular cocktail garnishes. Although maraschino cherries add little flavour to a drink most people would agree that they add a touch of class and sophistication when added to the right cocktail. Maraschino cherries are generally served with their stems intact , as people enjoy pulling the cherry out by the stem and eating them.

Celery Stalks

Celery stalks are the traditional decoration of the popular  Bloody Mary cocktail and its many variations, including the Bloody Ninja and the Bloody Margaret. When preparing the celery as a drinks garnish you should cut as little as possible from the celery, leaving the leafy end above the level of the liquid.

Painkiller cocktail


Oranges are another citrus fruit which are commonly used as cocktail garnishes, particularly in the preparation of Tiki-Style cocktails such as the Painkiller and Rum Runner.The preparation of oranges is again similar to limes and lemons: slices, wedges and twists. One other method commonly used with oranges is to prepare orange spirals, which can be used with the aid of a citrus stripper. You begin at one end of the orange and cut around and down towards the other end making a long spiral peel. These can be a particularly attractive form of cocktail garnish.



As cocktail garnishes, pineapple come into play in the world of  Tiki-Style drinks, where they are used to decorate such Tiki-style classics as the Mai-Tai and the Pina Colada. To prepare a pineapple for garnish, begin by cutting the top and bottom of the pineapple and then cut the fruit in half from one end to the other.Cut one half in half from one end to the other. Remove the core section of the pineapple and finally cut into wedges.



Olives are considered as the traditional Martini garnish and are also used to garnish the Bamboo and Saketini cocktails. They are generally served without pimentos (the little red things found in the middle of a green olive) and served skewered on a toothpick and placed in the drink.

Espresso Martini

Coffee Beans

Coffee Beans, which are essentially the seeds of the coffee plant, are used to garnish some of the most popular cocktails being served today, such as the White Russian and the Espresso Martini. Three beans are usually used, which represent: Health, Wealth & Happiness.


Other Garnishes

Other cocktail garnishes are used in cocktail making, including: apple slices, used to garnish the Appletini cocktail, mint sprigs, used to garnish the Southside cocktail, passion fruit shell used to garnish the Bajan Passion and raspberries used to garnish the Rubus cocktail.

 Guest Author

Written by Guest Author Author

Posted: December 2, 2012

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