Presentation is important, but thoughtfully rimming your cocktail is about more than good looks. That ring provides texture, color, and contrasting flavors to canonical drinks like Margaritas, where a dose of salt on your glass offsets the sweet-and-sour concoction within.
“This is something that, when done without thought, is often done poorly,” cocktail legend Dale DeGroff reportedly warned about salt rims. It’s a valid point. When executed carefully, rims balance your drink. If applied incorrectly, a rim can overpower or dilute an otherwise tasty cocktail.
Fortunately, with a few key tips, you’ll be serving flawlessly executed cocktails in no time.
Pick Your Poison
Every rim is comprised of two or more components: liquid and solid(s). Choose and use your ingredients wisely, because everything that touches the rim of a glass will affect the flavor of the drink.
Water, juice, beer, or syrups are all perfectly suitable liquids to use for rimming your cocktail. If you opt for anything but water, of course, be mindful that its flavor will come through in the final drink.
In other words, pilsner is a great way to moisten your glass when you’re adding a lemon-sugar rim to a shandy, but less ideal for, say, an Apple Cider Mimosa. (For that, you should go with water or leftover cider.)
Salt is the most commonly used solid on a cocktail rim, but it’s not the only garnish in town. You can use sugar, crushed candies, spices, herbs — anything goes, so long as the flavors don’t overpower your cocktail and are palatable enough to consume straight. (After all, who among us hasn’t treated a chili-flecked rim on a Margarita as our personal salt lick?)
Put a Ring on It
“The biggest mistake that everyone makes when making rims at home is you get the salt on the inside of the glass,” Don Lee, a partner at NYC cocktail destination Existing Conditions, says. Rimming only the outer portion of a glass is important because it keeps your garnish from falling into your cocktail and throwing off its flavor.
To sidestep this gaffe, wet only the outside of your glass with a dampened paper towel. Or, for better adhesion, pour some of your preferred liquid into a shallow saucer. Lay your glass on its side in the saucer and roll the outer circumference of the glass in the liquid.
You want about a quarter-inch or less to be moistened; feel free to dry any excess liquid with a clean towel before adding your solid. Most bartenders prefer to rim only half or a portion of a cocktail glass, so that you can taste your drink with and without the garnish if you so choose. “That way everyone has the option,” Lee says.
Next, put your chosen solid in a similarly shallow saucer and repeat the process with the moistened segment of your glass. If any errant salt flakes or solids fall into your glass in the process, give the interior a quick swipe with a clean napkin or cloth.