The Garnish - Last But Not Least

So, you’re making a cocktail at home... Do you need to garnish it?

You might view a garnish as unnecessary – something that takes time to prepare and will probably get thrown away after the drink is finished anyway.

But here are some reasons why it’s a good idea to add a garnish to your drinks, even though it does take a little bit of extra time and effort:

First, the garnish adds an element of flavor – in fact, it can be the first flavor you experience when you start to drink a cocktail. No, I don’t mean that you start off by eating the garnish – but as I found out from a Flavor Chemist friend of mine, flavor isn’t just what you taste on your tongue; it’s a combination of taste and smell. Actually, 80% of the sensation of flavor comes from the odor molecules we smell! (More geeky tips from the chemist coming in a later article...) Anyway, getting back to the cocktail garnish question: the garnish adds to the overall flavor experience of your drink, because it could be the first thing you smell when you raise your glass, and it can continue to add both taste and smell to your cocktail while it’s soaking in the alcohol.

Second, and equally important in my opinion: Whether you’re entertaining others or just serving yourself, the look of your drink can add to the overall experience – and a garnish adds a finishing touch that’s pleasing to the eye. This is not much different from sprinkles on a donut.

For example, this looks good:


But this looks better!


Similarly, this looks good, after a long day at work…

But this just looks better. Ahhhhh…


Now, if you decide that garnishes are indeed worthwhile, what’s the easiest way to stock your kitchen so you’re prepared for most cocktail scenarios? Fortunately, there’s a short list of just 5 items that will cover most home bartending needs:

  1. Lemons – So versatile, great for gin and vodka based cocktails, and “teas” like the Long Island Iced Tea and Long Beach Iced Tea, plain or Lemon Drop Martinis, and other drinks that contain citrus flavors. You can garnish with a lemon wedge or twist of rind, whatever suits the drink best.
  2. Limes – Also very versatile, can be used for gin, vodka, rum or tequila based drinks, anything made with lemon-lime soda, tonic water or club soda, in cocktails that contain lime juice like the Cosmopolitan, and in some drinks that use sweet and sour mix like Margaritas. A lime garnish can be in the form of a wedge, slice, or even a twist.
  3. Olives – For gin or vodka Martinis. Pimiento-stuffed olives are the standard, but you can also stuff them with blue cheese, almonds, jalapenos, or anything else you like.
  4. Oranges – Great for orange flavored drinks like a Screwdriver or Harvey Wallbanger, anything that uses orange liqueur (Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.), rum-based drinks, and don’t forget the Old Fashioned. Orange slices look elegant, but a wedge or a twist will work too.
  5. Maraschino cherries – For any drink that uses grenadine, green drinks like an Apple Martini or Midori Sour, fruity mixed drinks, and of course in Manhattans.


6. Whipped cream – A nice touch for coffee drinks. Feel free to use the canned stuff, as it’s easier, keeps longer, and makes a nice decorative swirl when you dispense it.

It really is pretty easy to spruce up the flavor and appearance of your drinks with simple garnishes that you can keep on hand. Your friends, and your own palate, will appreciate it! Cheers!

If you have any questions or suggestions for future articles, feel free to write me at

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