The Garnish

Garnishes and ShotsThere are many ways to garnish any drink, especially between various establishments. But of the variety of treats available, you’re sure to want to know the following. They are the most popular and most common.

Lemon, lime, orange, cherry and of course olive. Others to know are the tropical fruits: orange, pineapple, banana, and strawberry. Then there’s mint, celery, and the cocktail onion. This sounds like a lot, but if you’ve frequented bars (and as you begin to bartend) you’ll have no problem naming off each of these like the names of your most hated girlfriends (or boyfriends).

Your best tool for creating your garnishes is going to be a Serrated Knife. It is going to give the best cut for the fruits and works well for the rest of the garnishes. Perform your cuts on a cutting board only used at the bar and place it over a wet bar towel to prevent slipping.

First off let’s clarify, what exactly is a garnish?

There’s no doubt you’ve seen a garnish before whether it be a lemon wedge in your cocktail, the salt around the rim of your Margarita or a celery stalk in your Bloody Mary. Whatever garnish you’re particularly interested in, it serves one of two purposes. Some drinks absolutely need the garnish for flavor and to enhance the cocktail, while others are merely there for looks. It might add a particular color or just change the overall presentation of the beverage. Here are the most common garnishes you need to know as a bartender.


Primarily used to garnish a Bloody Mary, celery is usually washed, separated into stalks, with the ends trimmed off. Some bars prefer to leave the leaves on the celery, but that’s a decision your establishment will usually make. Remember to check the quality of the celery as it tends to go bad rather quickly.


Using maraschino cherries on a drink usually adds a bit of fun as well as color, rarely are cherries used to enhance the flavor of the cocktail. Drinks such as a Midori Sour add a cherry for garnish, while a Manhattan is one of the only drinks which absolutely requires the cherry.


Coffee cocktails are usually garnished using a cinnamon stick. It adds a bit of flavor and can be used to stir the drink as well. Sometimes a dash of cinnamon is added to seasonal drinks for flavor and smell. Most establishments will not use cinnamon sticks due to the relatively high price per drink. You’ll usually only see it in higher end establishment.


Garnish Lemon
Lemons are used in three ways to garnish a drink. There’s the lemon wheel, which is essentially a circular cut directly through the center of a lemon. A lemon wheel is actually just a cross section of the lemon. A wedge is usually an eighth of lemon sliced into a wedge shape. Finally, a twist is simply a long slice of the lemon rind twisted placed on the edge of the glass. Lemons along with limes as mentioned below, are by far the most common garnish used in bartending. They enhance the flavor of many drink and are just decorative embellishments in others.


The most commonly used garnish equal to that of the lemon is the lime. Used most often in wedge shape, limes enhance the flavor of a Cuba Libre and Mojito. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after slicing citrus garnishes, the oils can transfer very easily and also dry out your hands.


This classic spice used in cooking and bartending alike. As a bartender, you’ll be using it in drinks like the Brandy Alexander. You also find it used quite a bit in coffee based cocktails. Although you will learn to make drinks using nutmeg, most modern bars don’t stock it. It can create quite a mess, and if used incorrectly it can easily ruin any drink.


The olive is a staple in one of the most well-known cocktails, the Martini. Although there are a number of different olives available for purchase in a grocery store, you’re most likely to be using green pitted olives at a majority of establishments. A great way to become more knowledgeable as a bartender is to sample a variety of olives and try using the various kinds in drinks. A bartender who knows his Martinis will stand above his peers.


Although you won’t find onions in most modern bars, you should understand which drinks call for you to add this garnish. A Gibson for example uses an onion instead of an olive. You may have customers from time to time who order a cocktail that normally uses onions. If your bar does not stock them make sure you offer a substitute garnish such as an olive or lime just to make the option available.


The orange is one of the sweetest garnishes bars carry, which is why you’ll find it used primarily in sweet beers and cocktails. Some sour drinks call for an orange garnish as well. As mentioned in lemons and limes above, oranges can also be cut into wedges, wheels, and twists.


Obviously the most tropical option in terms of garnishes, they partner wonderfully with Pina Coladas and fruit flavored margaritas. Pineapples are a staple for most beach themed bars. When using a pineapple to garnish, you can cut them into pie shapes and either leave the skin on or off depending upon what your establishment prefers.


A salt rimmer is quite useful in helping you to salt the rim of the glass for modern drink favorites such as the Margarita. Other drinks which you’ll see this ingredient added are the Salty Dog as well as a Bloody Mary. Make sure that you use thicker grained Sea Salt as it is traditionally more appropriate for cocktails than smaller grained table salt.


Drinks such as a Lemon Drop are usually made rimmed with sugar. It adds a smooth and sweet taste to the shooter and can act as a substitute for salt in others. Because it tends to stick to everything, make sure you pay special attention to using only a small amount of moisture on the rim before dipping it in the sugar.

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