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A delicious cocktail comes alive when presented with a fabulous garnish. In fact, without a garnish, there might just be something missing. Who can imagine a Bloody Mary without a celery stick, or a Martini without its olives? The trick is to balance the traditional with the creative, and with the right ingredients and tools, your cocktails will look (and taste) superb in no time.

First: the tools of the trade

Most tools you will need to make superb garnishes can be found at home. The list includes:

  • Grater
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Paring knife
  • Toothpicks
  • Lighter

Other tools are a bit more specialist in nature, but can make cocktail hour much more fun. A microplane grater is wonderful for finely grated ingredients such as chocolate and nutmeg, and a channel knife is essential for citrus spirals.

Sweet garnishes

The garnish you use depends very much upon the cocktail you're creating. There are some sweet garnishes you can make beforehand, like lemon, lime and orange wedges or citrus spirals (placing them in ice cold water will help them to spiral beautifully and keep them fresh).

Others are better cut fresh on the spot. Pineapple wedges make a great accompaniment to a Pina Colada, and freshly sliced apple completes and Apple Daiquiri beautifully. For something different, you can prepare slices of apple in thin toffee and garnish your Daiquiri this way.

Fresh banana slices, mint leaves and assorted sweets also make great garnishes. Candy canes make for an especially festive cocktail garnish during the holiday season, and grated or shaved chocolate looks wonderful on top of whipped cream. Maraschino cherries and assorted fresh berries also make colourful and tasty garnishes. A sprig of fresh mint is used for garnishing Mojitos and Mint Juleps.

Citrus oils can be flamed over the surface of a drink. Place a lighter between the drink and the citrus zest and squeeze the oils out, toasting them on their way to the surface of your drink. Rub the zest over the rim of the glass and then pop it into the cocktail.

Savoury garnishes

Many savoury garnishes can be prepared in advance. Traditionally, a Martini comes with a green olive on a toothpick (or several if you're an olive lover). You could try pimento stuffed olives, or perhaps take a trip to your local delicatessen if you're feeling more creative. Gin and Vodka Gibsons, dry versions of the Martini, are garnished with a cocktail onion instead of the Martini's olive. Both olives and cocktail onions are both readily available and store for several months.

Other savoury garnishes can be served up fresh, such as long, trimmed celery sticks. Some of the fresh garnishes from the sweet list can be used in savoury drinks also, such as limes and lemons. Using the zest of tart citrus is great in many drinks, and making sure the oils are squeezed out onto the surface of the drink makes them come alive.

Glass Frosting

Frosting not only improves the look of your drink, but also the taste. On a flat plate or a large-based plastic container with a lid, place either sugar or salt, depending on the drink. Rub an orange (for sugar) or lemon (for salt) wedge around the rim of the glass, then tip it upside down inside the sugar or salt. Make sure the rim of the glass is coated all the way around, pour the drink into the glass, and top with any other garnishes as necessary.

Garnish ingredients list:

  • Oranges
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Pineapple
  • Apples
  • Assorted berries
  • Chocolate (block)
  • Candy canes and other sweets
  • Cocktail onions
  • Green olives
  • Celery
  • Mint
  • Whipped cream
  • Maraschino cherries
  • Coffee beans
  • Sugar
  • Salt


  • Channel knife
  • Paring knife
  • Wide vegetable peeler (for zest or chocolate shavings)
  • Lighter
  • Toothpicks
  • Swizzle Sticks