You may think garnishing your homemade cocktails is all froufrou. But a good garnish is that perfect accessory — like a perfect cuff bracelet or pocket handkerchief folded just so — that takes your drink from good to “I wanna drink 10 of these” delicious. In addition to skyrocketing the likes on your Instagram post, many garnishes also help enhance the flavor of your sip because of their aromas, though sometimes, they’re just there to look good. “A garnish doesn’t always need to be functional, but it should complement the drink in some way, even just for aesthetics,” says Stacey Swenson, head bartender at Dante. “Most importantly, it should never be obstructive. You should be able to drink the cocktail without working around the garnishes or picking them out.” Lastly: You shouldn’t need to be a rocket scientist to make it.
Here are some bartender hacks that fit the bill and give you a range of options to play with next time you’re stirring and shaking.
The Perfect Curlicue Twist
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Place a Y-shaped vegetable peeler near the top of an orange and move the fruit against the peeler at an angle to get a three- to four-inch twist. Wrap the twists around a straw to set the shape. – Kathy Sullivan, owner of Sidecar Bartending
Twist With a Cherry
One-up the above by skewering half of the twist on a garnish pick, adding a cherry (bourbon-soaked, if it complements your drink), then skewering the rest of the twist. – Sullivan
In any drink that calls for lime juice, save the squeezed lime halves. Turn them inside out and peel off the pulp. Float one half in the glass and fill it with another liquor as an added shot. – Warren Bayani, bartender at Chao Chao
Citrus Peel to Twist for Oil
You want this peel to be even in width and thick enough to resist when you squeeze it, so it should have a little pith on it. Squeeze the peel with the skin side out over your drink, then gently rub it on the rim of the glass. This way you’ll smell the citrus oils even after your drink is gone. – April Wachtel, mixologist and founder of Swig + Swallow cocktail mixers
Herb or Fruit Ice Cubes
Fill an ice cube tray two-thirds full with distilled water (distilled is the secret to clear ice). In each slot, add a berry or mint or lemon verbana leaf. Top with distilled water and freeze. – Sullivan
Use a Y-shaped vegetable peeler lengthwise down a cucumber to remove a long piece of peel. Throw that away or eat it. Now peel another thin cucumber strip. Snake the ribbon back and forth and skewer it onto a cocktail pick. Rest this on top of the glass. – Sullivan
First, aim to cut each slice about 2 to 3 millimeters wide so they’re not too big. Then, to avoid a sad, droopy wheel on your cocktail glass rim, cut a slit in the middle of a segment of fruit, rather than between fruit segments. – Wachtel
Shaped Citrus Peels
Peel any citrus and use small cookie cutters to punch out shapes to place on top of a large ice cube. – Swenson
This not only makes punch look fancy, it also helps dilute the drink. Fill a bundt pan with distilled water and freeze the day before your party (for an optional addition, add fruit and herbs to the bottom of the pan, then place crushed ice on top before adding the water. The crushed ice will keep the fruit and herbs in place when you add the distilled water). To get the frozen mold out of the pan, run some water over the ice, then turn the pan upside down to slip out your artwork. – Sullivan
Wash your herbs and remove any brown or withered leaves. Pluck all the bottom leaves off the sprigs and place in a bowl. Use those plucked leaves for muddling. Take the sprigs (they should have four to eight leaves on them) and pinch them together just below the leaves, making a bouquet. Break off the bottoms of the stems so they’re about the same length. To garnish your drink, bunch two to three sprigs together into a tight bouquet. Tuck this between the ice and the side of the glass along with a straw, or, if the ice is packed tightly enough to hold the herbs in place, in the middle of the glass. – Wachtel
Bruleed Blood Orange Slice
If you have time, this is great in an Old Fashioned. Bring 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar, 10 peppercorns, and 10 allspice berries to a simmer in a large skillet. Thinly slice 1 or 2 blood oranges and add to the bottom of the skillet until they cover the bottom in a single layer. Simmer on low until the pith of the orange becomes translucent, about 40 minutes. Let the slices cool in the syrup. Place the slices on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and remove any peppercorns and allspice berries. Sprinkle with a little, little bit of sea salt and cayenne pepper. Broil on high for a few minutes until the orange starts to caramelize and get bubbly. Remove and cool on a wire rack. – Sullivan