Cocktail Garnishes 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Jazzing Up Your Drinks


Oh, so you fancy yourself a budding bartender, bar owner, or mixologist in the making? Well, listen up because I’m about to drop some knowledge on you. Do you know what separates the boring drinks from the Instagram-worthy ones? The top cocktail garnishes, baby.

Yes, garnishes! They can be both a blessing and a curse.

Yes, they make your cocktail look alluringly attractive on the outside—but the part that people usually don’t talk about? Choosing the right garnish for each of your cocktails so you won’t have to go back and redo it time and time again due to them wilting or rotting before anyone has gotten around to drinking them.

Consider this blog post your new set of rules about what cocktail garnishes are better off being used in certain drinks – and which ones might actually do more harm than good.

Let’s dive deep into understanding everything there is to know when it comes to wisely selecting different types of drink garnishes!


What is a garnish?

Let me be the first to tell you, the key to creating a killer cocktail is all in the details – and that’s where garnishes come in handy.

A cocktail garnish is essentially a little decorative touch that you add to your drink to give it a bit of personality. It could be a slice of citrus, a sprig of mint, or even a fancy umbrella (because let’s be real, who doesn’t love a cute umbrella?).

Think of it as the cherry on top of a sundae – it’s not totally necessary, but it sure does make the whole thing look prettier and more fun. Plus, when your customers take that first sip and see that you’ve gone the extra mile to make their drink look special, they’ll be impressed and grateful.

So don’t skimp on the garnishes, my friend – they just might make or break your reputation as a bartender.


Top 14 Garnishes: You Need These Behind the Bar to Succeed

First, let it be known that for this list of the most popular cocktail garnishes, you can leave the plastic toy animal garnishes for the servers. We’re talking real garnishes here, folks!

And sorry, spice rack staples are not allowed. Salt and sugar rims can sit this one out.

1. Lemons and Limes

These zesty fruits add a tangy, refreshing kick to your drinks as a garnish or mix-in. Plus, they bring a pop of color that makes your drink Insta-worthy. Get a little sour with a lot of awesome thanks to lemons and limes.

Here’s how to cut “sexy” lemons and limes, ready for garnishing perfection.

2. Oranges

Whether it’s adding a zesty and tangy kick or a pop of sunny color, oranges bring a unique flavor and style to any drink. Plus, let’s be real, who doesn’t love the sight of a perfectly sliced orange resting on the rim of their margarita? So, next time you’re behind the bar, don’t forget to grab some oranges to elevate your cocktail game to the next level. It’s time to give our citrus friend some much-deserved love and attention.

Oranges offer you a canvas for garnish creativity. Gain some inspiration right here, right now.

3. Cherries

Cherries are a sweet fruit that can be used to decorate drinks. They make drinks look nicer and also add sweetness. Maraschino cherries are the most popular type as they have a bright red color that stands out.

Dive deep into the world of Maraschino cherries (and how to pronounce it).

4. Olives

Looking to add some zest to your cocktail game? Look no further than the trusty olive! These salty little gems are a go-to garnish for any classic cocktail. And with options like pimento or blue cheese stuffing, they’re not just a flavor enhancer – they’re a visual treat. So grab your shaker and let those olives take your drink to the next level!

5. Cucumber

Looking to add some zest to your cocktail game? Look no further than the trusty olive! These salty little gems are a go-to garnish for any classic cocktail. And with options like pimento or blue cheese stuffing, they’re not just a flavor enhancer – they’re a visual treat. So grab your shaker and let those olives take your drink to the next level!

6. Mint

Mint is so refreshing, it’s like a refreshing slap in the face. And not just for your mouth, but for your eyes too. So who needs to rough it with a plain ol’ cocktail when you can add some mint and let your guests pretend they’re living the high life? Just make sure it’s fresh or else you might as well be serving up some brown, wilted sadness. And please, don’t forget to wash your hands before you start throwing that mint around. We wouldn’t want any germs getting in the way of your boujee cocktail experience.

7. Rosemary

The top cocktail garnish for those who want to feel like they’re sipping their drink in the middle of a forest. Nothing says “let’s get wild” like a sprig of this aromatic herb skewered on a toothpick or floating in your glass. And let’s not forget the true pièce de résistance – burning or smoking the rosemary in the drink itself. Who needs a plain old lime wedge or cherry when you can have a mini campfire in your cocktail? So go ahead, and impress your guests with your herbaceous expertise and some fancy pyrotechnics.

8. Basil Leaves

Nothing quite screams “I’m a great bartender” like a chiffonade of basil. Not only does it add a pop of brilliant deep green to your drink, but it also infuses its herbaceous flavor into your cocktail. And don’t even get me started on the different types of basil (I’m pretty obsessed), sweet, tulsi, lemon, Thai, it’s like a whole universe of basil-bilities.

9. Pineapples

Nothing says “I put effort into this drink” quite like a pineapple garnish. It’s sweet, it’s juicy, it’s bright yellow – what more could you want? Pineapple slices have earned their place as one of the top cocktail garnishes, especially in drinks like the oh-so-exotic Pancho Villa cocktail and the thrill-seeking Virgin Pina Colada. Perfect with tropical fruit flavors, because who doesn’t love basil with their pineapple, am I right? And let’s not forget the wild card flavors that pair oh-so-well with a pineapple garnish – caramel, cilantro, pepper, rosemary – the list goes on and on. So go forth, adventurous cocktail makers, and embrace the pineapple garnish!

Scared of cutting pineapple? Don’t be! Watch this video, then practice at home or with an instructor at LBS.

10. Cinnamon Stick

A cinnamon stick looks cool as hell bobbing in a glass of vanilla-infused whiskey, but it also smells like the holiday season on steroids. You can also use it as a makeshift wand to cast spells on your guests.

11. Chocolate Curls

Forget about the fancy umbrella and fruit garnishes, because nothing screams “I’m a sophisticated adult” like a good ol’ chocolate curl garnish. Whether you’re crafting a creamy dairy cocktail or a fake dairy impostor, chocolate curls are sure to add that extra touch of decadence. Why discriminate against the lactose intolerant?

Let’s not forget about the graham cracker rims – because why not have a dessert cocktail while you’re at it, am I right? So go ahead, add some chocolate curls to your cocktail, and allow your regulars to indulge in the ultimate form of self-care—chocolate.

Grab your potato peeler and a chocolate bar (you have those behind the bar, right?), and get to shaving!

12. Whipped Cream

Whipped cream is a creamy, fluffy garnish that can be used in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. Whipped cream adds sweetness and richness to drinks, as well as provides a lovely decoration when piped onto the top of the cocktail.

13. Celery

Celery stalks have become an essential garnish for numerous cocktails across the globe. From the classic Bloody Mary to its variations such as Bloody Maria and Bloody Dane, celery finds its way into many cocktail menus. In addition to providing visual appeal, celery stalks also impart aromas and flavors that complement the cocktails. The savory and slightly bitter taste of celery balances the acidity and spice of tomato juice-based cocktails. Furthermore, celery is considered a superfood, recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties and low-calorie content. So, beyond its decorative function, the use of celery in cocktails also offers health benefits. Without a doubt, celery is an indispensable ingredient that elevates the cocktail experience, and its presence is cherished by cocktail enthusiasts and bartenders around the world.

14. Whole Bean Coffee

When it comes to crafting cocktails and mixed drinks, one popular garnish choice is whole, heavy-roasted coffee beans. These beans, which can be from a variety of coffee types, are used to add both visual appeal and flavor to a drink. However, they are not the only way that coffee can be incorporated into a cocktail.

Some mixologists choose to use finely ground coffee powder as a garnish or even as an ingredient in the drink itself. These different methods of incorporating coffee into cocktails allow for a range of flavor profiles and presentation options, making it a versatile and dynamic ingredient in the world of mixology.

Using Herbs as a Cocktail Garnish

Oh, it’s time to awaken some herbs! Don’t worry, it’s not some mystical ritual involving chanting and crystals. No, we’re just gonna release the oils from those lovely leaves and stems.

When it comes to cocktail garnishes, herbs are definitely at the top of the list. They add all sorts of flavors and aromas that can take a cocktail from mediocre to magnificent. Here’s a video that you can watch and learn how to wake those herbs up in under a minute.

Using Cocktail Garnishes 101

  1. Always edible.
  2. Start off with the basics- get familiar with the tools of the trade such as a muddler, jigger, strainer, and shaker
  3. Make sure to choose something that complements the flavor of your drink – use color and texture to make it look more appealing
  4. Keep it simple by sticking to one garnish or two – don’t go overboard otherwise, it’ll overpower your drink
  5. Learn how to cut garnishes correctly so they fit properly on top of drinks

Garnish Tips that Will Make You More Money in Tips.

  1. Think outside the lemon wedge – use fresh fruits and veggies to tantalize your taste buds. Try strawberries, pineapple cubes, or starfruit slices for a tropical twist. Melon balls, kiwi slices, and even grapes can add an unexpected element to your drinks,
  2. Add a twist to your cocktails with edible flowers like pansies, lavender, and hibiscus
  3. Bring out the flavor of your drink by adding extra spices or herbs. Pick herbs that enhance the flavors in your drink – try mint for mojitos, rosemary for gin and tonics, or basil for vodka-based drinks
  4. Serve drinks in fun glasses or mugs – from martini glasses to pint glasses
  5. Get creative with ice cubes – freeze fruit juice, herbs, and edible flowers for extra flavor
  6. Use pickled items as garnishes – like olives, jalapenos, and onions for a salty kick!
  7. Make it Instagrammable
  8. Have fun with shapes – use cookie cutters to make stars or hearts out of lemons or limes

Become a Bartending Garnish Guru with Local Bartending School .

Now you are a pro on the best tips and techniques to create dazzling and delicious garnishes for your cocktails. Take this newfound knowledge and skills to the bar, and impress your friends with one-of-a-kind creations; who knows you might even make some extra cash as a mobile mixologist! But if bartending is something that truly interests you, go ahead and look into professional training at the Local Bartending School.

With knowledge like this, your future guests, coworkers, bosses, and peers will think you flipped through a cocktail book during your spare time – impressing guests and “shaking it up” every day. Don’t knock until you try it… Give yourself the key to success when it comes to making drinks just by adding an extra touch of flavorful experimentation with garnishes – your creativity is boundless!

Carrie Jean Lipe

Carrie Lipe has been writing creatively since childhood but jump-started her professional writing after college. She's an Indiana native, Ball State Hospitality graduate, and a bartender with over 10+ years in the industry. You can find her making basil Moscow mules when she's not writing. Follow her professional journey on Instagram! @contentbycarriejean