What are garnishes and how to create the perfect fruit decorations for cocktails

What are garnishes and how to create the perfect fruit decorations for cocktails

If knowing how to mix a cocktail is a must for a delicious aperitif (but not always, thanks to NIO ready-to-share cocktails), making it look great is just as important. Garnishes can prove essential, because they can be a part of the overall flavour of the cocktail or optional, but one thing is certain - they’re always welcome because they make a cocktail an all-round sensory experience, in terms of taste, aroma and appearance. 

So what are garnishes? And how do you make them? We’ll tell you.

What are cocktail garnishes?

You’ll definitely have seen them when you’re served your favourite cocktail in a bar:  garnishes are cocktail decorations that are emerged directly in a drink, placed on the rim of a glass or used to squeeze out essential oils (from fruit peel) to bring an extra note of flavour and aroma to a drink.  

Garnishes to use in your cocktails

The most common classic cocktail garnishes are:

  • Whole fruit slices
  • Half slices
  • Fruit peel (sometimes shaped into a spiral) to give a sophisticated aesthetic touch 
  • Squeezed peel that releases fragrant essential oils  
  • Aromas
  • Spices
  • Coffee beans (for example in an Espresso Martini)
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Sugar sticks
  • A salt or sugar rim around the glass, etc.  

Want to learn how to use them better? These are Patrick Pistolesi’s tips for garnishes to make NIO cocktails unique:

Decorating cocktails with lemon

Lemon is one of the most popular fruit decorations in cocktails as it is easy to use and aromatic. Here’s how to use it:

  • A thin slice with the peel (especially an untreated, organic lemon). Place it directly in the drink or rest it on the rim of the glass by creating a small cut in the pulp. It gives a hint of acid that can often enhance the flavour of a cocktail
  • A lemon wedge with the peel, a thicker version of the previous garnish, to be used sparingly so it doesn’t add too much acidity
  • Lemon peel, which must be untreated, cut off with a peeler or small paring knife. This needs to be done delicately so as not to add the pith of the peel, which is too bitter.  You can cut a rectangle to add to your drink. If you really want to impress, cut a long, thin strip, wrap it around a straw and leave it in place for an hour to create a spiral for the rim of the glass
  • Essential oils from lemon peel, using the technique above. Cut a piece of peel with a small paring knife then squeeze the essential oils onto the rim of the glass or directly into the cocktail

Patrick Pistolesi suggests using lemon as an ideal garnish for cocktails like:

Like lemon, but more intense, lime can be used to decorate cocktails:

  • By cutting it into thin strips to place on the glass
  • In thicker slices in the cocktail itself to give an extra citrus boost 
  • By using the essential oils of lime peel to squeeze into the cocktail or around the rim 

The peel is generally too bitter and difficult to work with to be used in very complex garnishes. 

Lime is the ideal garnish for cocktails like:

Decorating cocktails with orange

Orange as a cocktail decoration is just as popular as lemon, easy to prepare and definitely impressive. It is more delicate and less acidic than lemon but can be used in the same way:

  • Orange slice, as thick as you like, whole or half. It can be placed in a cocktail or wedged onto the rim of the glass by making a little cut in the flesh. It is quick to prepare but gives an essential citrus note
  • Orange segment, with the peel if it is untreated. Juicier and more flavoursome, it can be placed in a cocktail for a more intense effect 
  • Orange peel, untreated if possible. Cut it gently and take care not to include any pith. It can be cut into rectangles or lengthways to create a spiral and give the aroma of the essential oils
  • Essential oils of orange peel can be used exactly like lemon: take a slice of peel, squeeze in into the cocktail or around the rim of the glass. The aroma is delightful

Orange is the ideal garnish for cocktails like:

Try them all!

Decorating cocktails with strawberries 

Delicate, chic, but not around for long (at least if you want them to have a great flavour): strawberry cocktail decorations are elegant, beautiful and delicious. How do you use them? Any way you can think of: 

  • Thinly sliced. Put them directly into the cocktail as they have an elegant flavour and can be eaten 
  • Cut into halves, to enjoy all the flavour to the full
  • Whole, wash them thoroughly and cut off the bottom so they can fit perfectly onto the rim of the glass  
  • In a rose shape. Use the biggest and juiciest strawberries. Pierce the tip of the strawberry with a toothpick, then gently cut the sides with a small-bladed knife. Create lots of small ‘petals’ by making little cuts in the flesh, then use it to decorate your drink.

Strawberries are the perfect  garnish for cocktails and drinks like:

  • Bloodhound
  • Strawberry Margarita 
  • Strawberry Caipiroska 
  • Rossini

among others.

Let your imagination run wild and prepare other fruits as garnishes, like apples, grapefruit and berries, in exactly the same way as oranges, lemons and strawberries.   

Decorating cocktails with flowers 

Do you like ‘floral’ cocktails? Not only fruit but also flowers can be used as colourful and imaginative cocktail decorations. Make sure you choose edible flowers. These include:  

  • rose petals
  • cornflower petals
  • violet petals
  • lavender petals
  • helichrysum petals

Make up a box with your favourite NIO cocktails and have a go at decorating them with your favourite garnish!