Garnishing the Glass
Drink garnishes complement or contrast flavors. They should either hint at what's in the recipe (mint and lime garnishing a mojito) or bring out a flavor in the drink (like salt contrasting with the tart, herbal flavors in a margarita).
Along with citrus wedges and strips of zest, you can add color to a drink with a whole kumquat. These tiny citrus fruits are entirely edible--peel and all--and they pack a mouth-watering punch of sweet-tart flavor. Other suggestions include:
- Maraschino cherries or brandied cherries
- Pineapple wedges
- Mint leaves
- Fruit kabobs: several kinds of fruit chunks on a skewer
- Ice cubes frozen with berries or slices of fruit
- Shaved fresh coconut
- Whipped cream, ice cream or a scoop of sherbet
- Flavored sugars: many specialty kitchen stores carry "cocktail froster" powders in flavors such as lemon, green apple, or cranberry
Garnish with a Twist
Some classic drinks require a classic garnish--a gin and tonic requires lime in the U.S., lemon in the UK--while Cuba libre is, by definition, a rum and coke with a lime wedge. Still, you can dress up a drink without changing it: a long twist of citrus peel is a simple and elegant way to finish off a mixed drink. To get extra-fancy, use strips of zest or circular slices of more than one kind of citrus, twisted or tied together.
Garnishes for Salty, Savory, or Straight up
Some of these garnishes can cross over to fruit drinks: thin slices of cucumber and a sprig of thyme make refreshing garnishes on lemon-vodka drinks.
- Slices or curls of cucumber, carrot, and radish
- Fresh herb leaves or sprigs
- Thin spear of celery with olives skewered on it (or use herb stems as skewers)
- Blanched green onions with the ends fringed
- Cocktail onions, pickled asparagus, or other pickled vegetables
- Special olives: bleu cheese-stuffed olives in a Bloody Mary, or caper-, anchovy-, or jalapeno-stuffed olives in a martini
- Toasted hazelnuts (for White or Black Russians, or any drink with hazelnut or cocoa liqueurs)
Coarse kosher salt is essential for margaritas. Make your own sweet cocktail froster with powdered drink mixes. Or try:
- coarse sugar or sparkling decorator's sugar
- finely ground coffee beans mixed with sweetened cocoa powder
- finely chopped coconut
- celery salt for a Bloody Mary
For most drinks, you can moisten the rim of the glass with a wedge of lime, lemon, or orange--or dip your finger in water and rub it around the edge. Dip the glass into a shallow dish filled with the garnish. Carefully pour in the cocktail without filling it to the brim.
Multi-colored, multi-layered cocktails have a magical effect and are a great addition to your "fancy drinks" repertoire. To make them, you'll need to use ingredients that have contrasting colors and varying weights. Very sweet, syrupy ingredients like grenadine or fruity liqueurs are heaviest, and creamy ingredients like Irish cream and half-and-half are lightest.
- Beginning with the heaviest ingredient, pour it very slowly over the back of a spoon and into the glass.
- Continue pouring slowly over the back of the spoon, working your way from the heaviest and finishing with the lightest ingredients in your cocktail.
Light up the Night
For a special drink that will truly get everyone's attention, try lighting it on fire. Be sure to use extreme caution: before beginning, warm up your glass by swirling warm water inside and dumping it out (if the glass is cold, it could crack with the sudden temperature change).
- Pour your favorite beverage into the warmed glass, and then pour a little bit of high-proof alcohol into a metal spoon.
- Ignite the alcohol in the spoon using a long match, and then carefully pour the flaming alcohol into the glass.
- Serve immediately, and always blow out the flame before drinking!