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The art of mixing cocktails: garnish basics

The fabulous thing about cocktails is their huge potential for wow factor. It’s not just the ingredients in the glass that matter. How the cocktail is dressed is also important. The right garnish completes the look with excitement or elegance (or both at the same time), and also adds an extra touch of flavor. From a subtle sprig of rosemary to a tropical mini rainforest complete with an umbrella, here is your Clos19 guide to everything you need to know about gorgeous garnishes.

Beyond looks

Garnishes and cocktails go back a long, long way. A beautiful garnish can be purely ornamental, but the best garnishes do more than simply make your cocktail look pretty: they also add a nuance of flavor or aroma to complement the drink itself.

 

Which garnish for which drink?

Don’t just grab any old bit of fruit that you might have at home to place on the rim of your glass. You’ll find that certain spirits work best with specific types of garnish because of the particular flavor combinations they create together. Here are some classics to be aware of:

Caipiroska

Fresh and citrusy, vodka-based cocktails tend to work best with lemon, grapefruit or lime, be it a wedge, slice or a twist. Fresh, herbaceous garnishes such as mint, basil and rosemary also often enhance a clear, refreshing cocktail. Try the Rosemary Gimlet or the Caipiroska if this sort of style is your thing.

Punch Royal

Cognac-based cocktails love a twist of orange to enhance that warm, citrus spiciness (give the Mai Tai a try) and rum tends to be paired well with tropical fruit (as well as extravagant, themed ornaments!) Try the Punch Royal with all its accoutrements for a fruity taste sensation.

Scotch whisky cocktails don’t tend to have fancy garnishes and if they have anything, it’s usually a simple maraschino cherry or slice of orange peel. Try the Whisky Sour if this sounds good to you.

Certain styles of Martini cocktails go well with the savory notes that come from an olive or an onion. And if you want to tell yourself that you’re being healthy while drinking alcohol, this recipe for a classic Bloody Mary combines the umami notes of Worcestershire sauce with earthy celery and a chili kick to flush out your system.

Fruit-juice heavy, retro, tropical cocktails such as the Piña Colada or Tequila Sunrise provide the perfect opportunity to let yourself go wild with adornments. Wedges of fresh, tropical fruit, edible flowers, umbrellas, plastic cocktail monkeys… if a little kitsch is what you’re after, these are cocktails where you can go wild with your garnish.

The trick is to think about how the flavor of a garnish might complement the ingredients and whether the color and shape will enhance the overall look. Then again, experimentation has yielded incredible results over the years, so try it out and see what works. Who knows? Maybe you’ll invent something that becomes a classic, even if it's just in your own home...