A Guide to Garnishes: Common Types & Flavors

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A garnish is the “finishing touch” on any good drink. Not only does it provide an extra sensory experience and aesthetic value, but it often enhances the aromas and flavors of the beverage.¬†Knowing how to properly garnish a drink in your bar not only shows your mastery of a drink’s flavor profile, but also that you care about “the look.” Don’t forget that Millennials love to share pictures of an especially pretty drink! The following are the tools to use, common garnishes and different types of garnish flavors.

Tools for Garnishes

The right tools are the first step to proper garnishing. Some garnish sets can include as many as 20 different tools, but there are really only three main tools every bartender should have:

Paring Knife: Your most-used tool of all, always make sure your paring knife is super sharp. A dull knife can slow prep time and is also a safety risk. This knife is ideal for cutting garnishes like lime wheels or lemon wedges.

Channel Knife: Recognized by its V-shaped blade, this knife is used to turn citrus peels into artistic twists. To achieve that spiralized effect, simply roll it over the fruit of the skin. Be careful not to peel off any rind (only the colored portion of the citrus skin), as the rind is typically quite bitter and can compromise the flavor of the drink.

Grater/Zester: A grater (or zester) is generally used for dessert drinks, which require a delicate dusting of nutmeg, chocolate, or orange zest.


Different Types of Garnishes

Certain drinks get certain types of garnishes, from speared to floated or draped over a glass.

The Wheel: Made of lime, lemon, or orange, these garnishes sit atop drinks like margaritas or a citrus-forward craft beer.

The Twist: Typically made with a channel knife and a citrus fruit, a twist garnish complements drinks like martinis (shaken or stirred).

The Spear: Generally comprised of a string of olives, spears are made after the drink is poured and give the consumer something salty to nibble. Beyond olives, they can include items like pearl onions, bacon bits, or even shrimp. Spears are usually reserved for a Bloody Mary.

The Cherry: Usually this garnish comes in a Maraschino jar, but some crafty bars use dried cherries instead for an added punch. You can also find a number of higher-quality, richer-tasting cherries if your bar’s vibe is a bit more sophisticated. Cherries typically plop straight into a drink, like a Manhattan. In some cases, you’ll also find them garnishing an Old Fashioned.

Garnish Flavor Profiles

Once you have the proper tools stocked and the side station prepped, the last thing to consider is flavor. Although creativity in garnishing is encouraged, you should have a solid understanding of which flavors typically pair well before experimenting.

Citrus: Citrus adds a bright, juicy note to a wide range of drinks. While citrus-infused ice creams are a recent trend, proceed with caution when pairing citrus with any milk or cream-based drinks.

  • Orange citrus (think tangerines, grapefruit or, well, oranges) complements Belgian whites, like Blue Moon.
  • Lime goes with Spanish-influenced beer, gin, vodka and tequila.
  • Lemon pairs well with vodka-based drinks.

Cherries: These sweet pops of color go great with a Pina Colada, or even a stiff Manhattan, but avoid salty drinks like a standard martini.

Mint: This cool, herbal leaf always pairs well with rum, especially when it’s muddled in a Mojito.

Vegetables (and Bacon!): Other than the obvious olive in a martini, vegetable garnishes tend to go with savory, tomato-based drinks, like the Bloody Mary.

Cinnamon/Coffee/Chocolate: These types of garnishes are often grated over dessert cocktails, like a mudslide or chocolate martini.

If you’re not sure, the best rule of thumb when garnishing a new drink is to consider the drink’s main theme. Use the primary ingredient to guide you. For instance, an Asian pear martini can always be garnished with just that–a pear.


Getting Creative with Garnishes

Don’t be afraid to get creative! Inventing new drinks and flavor profiles, complemented by an eye-popping garnish, is sure to liven up any menu. Add a pickled bean to a Bloody Mary, or a mango spear to a fruity drink.

And don’t be afraid to go beyond cocktails! A common misconception is that beer never gets garnished. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many beers are actually complemented by a good garnish. Use your knowledge of the craft beer flavors you have on tap to experiment with some beer pairings of your own.

Just be sure that if you invent the next latest craze, you use a tool like Evergreen to get the word out there. Just the click of a button on their easy dashboard sends a shockwave of new flavor through all of your social media channels. Before you know it, your drinks will be Insta-famous!