Well-made cocktails are a surefire way to get your event off to a great start, but garnishing that cocktail with fragrant sprinkling of tiny rose petals or a gorgeous variegated rhubarb ribbon are sure to transform your cocktails into the talk of the party.
Simple arrangements can add an artful flourish to a range of cocktails. Try adding paper-thin citrus slices to a classic margarita, a twisty ringlet of orange to white Lillet cocktails, or a lime-raspberry twist to this Champagne cocktail. Here are five easy yet stunning garnish ideas—all made with fresh ingredients!—to try at your next party.
A sprinkling of small edible flowers adds a bright burst of color and often a subtle floral aroma that’s perfect for many drinks. It’s also one of the easiest garnishes imaginable: just sprinkle a few petals or small flowers in a crescent shape along the edge of the glass, or scatter them across the top of the drink for a more relaxed look.
Make sure the flowers are both edible and free of pesticides: For an easy solution, look for flowers sold in the refrigerated case along with the herbs and salad greens in your supermarket. If the flowers are large, you can separate the flowers into individual petals, but packages of “micro” flowers are also available at many gourmet grocers. Once you see how your guests are impressed by your fresh flower garnishes, you might be inspired to plant edible flowers in your own garden or in pots on your kitchen windowsill. Good options include hibiscus, which have a tart, citrusy flavor; nasturtiums, which have a mildly peppery taste; and borage, a star-shaped flower with a gorgeous purple-blue color and cucumber flavor.
A Lime-Raspberry Twist
Easier to make than it looks, this quick little garnish can be made with any small citrus fruit—limes, lemons or small oranges—and a variety of berries. Here we’ve used raspberries, but blueberries and small blackberries also work well. You can also experiment with larger fruits cut into small cubes about the size of a raspberry, taking inspiration from the ingredients in the cocktail. Think little bits of mango for your mango margarita, or pineapple cubes for your piña colada.
After washing your lime, cut off the stem and blossom ends, then cut a thin, round slice from the lime. Place it flat on your cutting board, then, using a paring knife, cut a slit from the center of the lime to one of the edges. Pick up the lime slice with both hands, grasping it on either side of the slit, and twist the sides in opposite directions to create the twist. Holding the twist in your left hand, use your right hand to place berries in between the folds and insert a cocktail pick through the berries to hold the whole thing together. Place the pick on the edge of a cocktail glass or dunk the whole thing into your drink for a cocktail that’s as pretty as a picture.
Paper-Thin Citrus Slices
For a drink that contains lemon or lime juice, add even more fresh, citrusy aroma and a pop of color by garnishing the drink with citrus slices.
Wash your lime and cut off the stem and blossom ends, then cut the lime into the thinnest rounds possible. A mandoline or super-sharp knife is a big help here, as is using a relatively firm fruit. (Very ripe citrus that has gone a little soft will tend to fall apart, so save those for making your drinks.) To garnish a drink in a highball, double old-fashioned, or other glass with straight sides, use a chopstick or the handle of a bar spoon to slide a few citrus slices down into the drink, pressed flat against the side of the glass so that they adhere. If your slices are thin enough, they should stick to the sides of the glass. If they don’t want to stay, no problem. Just throw in a few more slices and let them float wherever they like. No one will be the wiser, and it will still add a fresh, aromatic twist to your drink.
A Twisty Lemon Ringlet
Here, we take the traditional lemon twist garnish and transform it into a playful lemon curlicue that looks great draped over the rim of your glass. Wash your lemon to remove any pesticide or residue, and dry it. Use a channel knife (sometimes known as a zester, a citrus stripper or citrus knife) to cut a long, narrow strip of zest. To do this, hold the lemon in your left hand, the channel knife in your right. Press the notch of the channel knife firmly against the lemon so that it bites into the peel, then rotate the lemon slowly while continuing to press the channel knife firmly against the lemon. You want to remove the lemon zest in a long peel without removing the white pith underneath.
When you have a strip about 6 to 8 inches long, use your fingers to twirl it tightly around a chopstick, a skewer or the handle of a bar spoon. Hold it for a few moments so it will hold the curl, then slide it off the chopstick. Voilá: a lemon zest ringlet that you can drape over the edge of a cocktail glass.
Pro tip: If you’re making drinks for a crowd, make the ringlets in advance, cutting the zest strips, wrapping each around a chopstick, and setting them on the counter up to 2 hours in advance. This way you can garnish each drink in a matter of seconds, and each curl will be extra-springy to boot.
A Transparent Rhubarb Ribbon
This one can be a little trickier than the others, but all it takes is a stalk of rhubarb and a sharp vegetable peeler to create a gorgeous translucent pink-and-white ribbon that will make your cocktail the belle of the ball. Place a washed and trimmed rhubarb stalk on a flat surface and run your vegetable peeler lengthwise along the stalk, cutting a strip that’s as thin as possible. The straighter and more uniform your stalk of rhubarb is, the easier this will be to achieve. Don’t worry if a few slices don’t turn out evenly; just pitch them and keep cutting ribbons carefully and slowly until you find the perfect slice that’s a pretty translucent ribbon with pink striations. Wrap the ribbon around the handle of a wooden spoon to give it a bit of curl, then drop it into your drink, draping it over the rim of the glass if you like.
Tell us: What’s your favorite way to top a drink?