Guide to Citrus Garnishes

It’s the little things that elevate an experience from good to great. Whether it’s stopping to smell the flowers or the extra bit of love that makes mom’s cooking so delicious, we know it when we see it (or smell or taste it). So when you make a cocktail at home, for yourself or otherwise, don’t forget that the finishing touch to every drink is a beautiful and/or functional garnish. You’ll thank yourself for taking the time to do it right and whomever you hand a drink to will feel like you care, and you do, of course.

Garnishes can range from something simple and classy like a beautiful Luxardo cherry in the bottom of Manhattan to flashy and elaborate like the cornucopia that is served on top of a Bloody Mary at your local brunch spot. With only a few guidelines to learn, the rest is in mastering some basic techniques and letting your creativity run wild.

Our first installment of our Guide to Garnishes series will show you when and how to use citrus to garnish cocktails.

Citrus Garnishes

Citrus fruits are by far the most common form of garnish and they hold the highest honor for good reason, they are the most versatile both in terms of flavor and presentation. While lemons and limes are seen most often, oranges, blood oranges and grapefruit are also well respected and incredibly useful. An easy guideline to remember is that if a cocktail is from or modeled after a drink from Central or South America, garnish with a lime, if the drink is from or modeled after a cocktail from Europe, garnish with lemon. There is some room to play here, of course, but this is a good general rule. You can utilize citrus as a peel, wheel or wedge.

When garnishing with a peel, “express” it over the drink by holding the exterior side toward the top of the drink and squeezing the long edges together. This will spray the citrus oils onto the top of the cocktail. Then rub the exterior of the fruit along the rim of the glass to impart some of the oils into each sip. You can either drop the peel into the drink, curl it up and hang it on the rim or slide it onto a cocktail pick.  

To garnish with a wheel of citrus simply slice the fruit the short way (in the direction that produces circles rather than ovals) with a serrated knife. You can then drop the fruit into your cocktail as is or cut a slit from the exterior to the center and slide it onto the rim of the glass.

Cut your citrus in half the long way and then in quarters or eights to make wedge garnishes. You can slit and slide onto the rim or simply toss into your cocktail.

Go forth and garnish!

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