5 Impressive Garnish Ideas That Bring the Cocktail Bar Home

Dress up any drink.

December 10, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten

We've partnered with Drinkworks to share totally doable, yet impressive ideas for dressing up all types of cocktails, from a spiced cranberry punch to a classic Old Fashioned. (Psst: These sips are ready at the push of a button when you're using their countertop Drinkmaker!)

When I make cocktails at home, for no one but myself, there's not much presentation to it: a glass, ice, and maybe a squeeze of lime or slap of mint (slapping your herbs is actually the most effective way to release their flavor).

But when I order a drink at one of New York City's many cocktail bars, it's all about the presentation: beautiful glassware, special tinctures, and expert garnishes to take the whole thing to a new level.

While I'm not too keen on making my own tinctures (though there's certainly a time and a place for a project like that), bringing some of that cocktail bar–experience home doesn't require much more effort than slicing an orange or freezing ice cubes. You can dress up any drink by adding a garnish that complements its flavors and looks just as nice as something you'd order from a pro.

Whether you're hosting a cocktail party or just want to up the ante on your after-work Old Fashioned, these five garnish ideas—straight from our Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen and Food Stylist Anna Billingskog—will take even the most straightforward libations (I'm looking at you, gin and tonic) over the top.

5 Ideas for Standout Cocktail Garnishes

The Drinkworks Home Bar by Keurig pours freshly made, single-serve cocktails (plus, beer and wine!) at the push of a button. Photo by Rocky Luten

1. Use Hardy Herbs as Skewers

This one couldn't be easier: Take herbs with sturdy stems, like rosemary and lavender, and use them as a skewer for everything from citrus rounds to seasonal fruits (in winter, cranberries and blood orange; in summer, berries, pineapple, and more).

For something like a gin and tonic, rosemary's piney flavor complements gin's classic juniper notes, while a wedge of lemon adds necessary brightness. If you wanted to go a step further, you could light the end of the rosemary with a match, blow it out, and add the charred herb to the drink for extra warm, smoky flavor.

2. Take Things Up a Notch With Candied Fruit

Instead of just sliding fresh fruit onto a skewer, Josh suggests enhancing their flavor and appearance by candying them in sugar and spices; the same goes for ginger or citrus peels.

His example: Sweet-tart cranberries become far more interesting when you soak them in an orange blossom simple syrup and coat them in granulated sugar. Add one (or a few) of these candied orbs to a metal skewer and wrap it in an orange peel; each end of the orange peel should be poked through the skewer, to make a half-moon shape. Float the finished skewer over a spiced cranberry punch or some other wintry drink.

3. Make a Citrus Peel the Star

A twist of citrus is an essential addition to plenty of cocktails. Instead of making it an afterthought (like mine normally are), Anna suggests making it a star of the drink by slicing it carefully and wrapping it around a statement ice cube, like in the Old Fashioned below.

Here's how to do it: Hold a citrus peeler against the orange, and pressing down firmly (but not too firm), roll the orange in a circular motion in your hand until you have one long strip of orange peel. Place the orange peel on a cutting board, and with a sharp paring knife, slice off the edges of the orange peel so you have straight lines on both sides, and trim the ends on a diagonal. Place your statement ice cube (here are some fun-shaped trays you can try) in the glass and carefully wrap the orange peel around it, before adding the liquid.

Photo by Rocky Luten

4. Dress Up the Rim With Sugar, Salt & Spices

A speedy way to add a bit of flair to most any cocktail? Dress up the rim, Anna suggests. For a cocktail on the sweeter side, a sugared rim works perfectly; all you need is lemon or lime juice and granulated sugar. Simply add the citrus juice to one plate and the sugar to another, dip the edges of the rim in the juice first, then dip it in the sugar, shake off the excess, and—voilà!—there you have it. This garnish would make a nice addition to a bright-colored cosmopolitan, along with a sprig of mint, Anna adds.

If your drink is a bit punchier, like a margarita for instance, a salted rim is the way to go. But instead of just using plain old salt, mix it with a bit of microplaned lime zest, says Josh. You could also try mixing in different spices that bring out the drink's flavors, like cinnamon, cayenne, or even smoked salt.

5. Transform Apple Slices into Flowers

These apple roses might look technically difficult, but they're actually pretty easy to pull off—though a little bit of preparation is required.

Australian food consultant and recipe developer Sappho Hatzis shows you how here, but this is the gist: Slice the apples with a mandolin (or if your knife skills are first rate, use a sharp knife) and simmer them over low heat in a mixture of lemon juice and water. Once cooled, roll one slice to make the center, then roll each slice around the center until you have a rose. Use a skewer to hold everything together and top on an apple-centric drink, like a cold-weather riff on a Moscow mule with apple cider, ginger beer, and lime.

Photo by Rocky Luten

What's your go-to cocktail garnish? Tell us in the comments below!

In partnership with Drinkworks, we're sharing a few of our favorite ideas for dressing up your favorite sips. From rosemary skewers to statement ice cubes, these impressive-yet-easy-to-pull-off garnishes are the best way to make your home cocktails feel bar-worthy. The Drinkworks Home Bar by Keurig—a single-serve drink-maker that pours bar-quality cocktails at the touch of a button—offers a variety of classic beverages to choose from, like a cosmopolitan and gin and tonic. There are also a few new options just in time for the holiday season: Spiced Punch, Winter Mule, Pomegranate Elderflower Spritzer, and more.

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Erin Alexander

Written by: Erin Alexander

Erin Alexander is the Managing Editor of Food52.