A Complete Guide To Citrus Garnishes

A Complete 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.

Ways to use the citrus garnish


Citrus is a tangy fruit that gives the right amount of punch needed in any drink that you make. You can use it in margaritas, dark and stormies and even Bloody Marys. A citrus garnish can also be used in classic drinks and the most visual element has always been the way it is attached on the rim of the glass. 


Take the slice off the polar ends from the top stem and the bottom tip and then cut the slice of the fruit in half lengthwise. Once done, cut the individual half into third or quarters for larger fruits. Pluck a slice out of the small notch partway through the center of each wedge and fit it over the glass’s rim. 

Wheels and Slices

The wheels and slices are many different forms in which you garnish a citrus fruit. The ways can be different like you have to first slice off both the ends of the fruit and if you are using a thick orange then you need to make sure to you do a deep cut in them to remove any white pitch so that it can expose the flesh. 

To make the wheels, you need to continue slicing the fruit crosswise to make thin slabs of a quarter inch. To make slices, you have to cut these wheels in half and then add it over the rim of the glass. 


This is another interesting way to serve your drinks with the garnish of a citrus fruit. Twist involves taking a citrus fruit and cutting the upper end of the fruit like a tangent. It is like if you were working on a citrus peel then the uppermost layer would come off. The best part about a twist is that instead of decorative aspect, this also adds some flavor to the drink with which you will be using this. 

The way to do this is fairly easy. Take a sharp knife and cut it as if you would slice an onion. While operating the knife, slowly slice off a thin oval of the peel and move the blade away. Make sure the cut is as shallow as possible so that you get the minimum of the white pith. This as a step is something to be done when your cocktail is all ready to be served. Gently twist the peel over your glass so that all the oil from the oranges comes into the drink. 

Advanced Methods

Flamed Twist

This is a form that’s just a bit of a twisted version of the twist. The way to do this is fairly simple. You can use a thumb and the forefinger and gently hold the peel by its edges. Now hold the lit match underneath the whole thing. Once done, flex the peel to release the peel so that the oil comes towards the flame and into the drink. 


The Spiral is something that doesn’t come into our use very often but at the same time it is used extensively in Horse’s neck cocktail. The way to do this is simple, you select the freshest, firmest and the thickest skinned citrus specimens. We use a paring knife and start at the top of the fruit to cut down the fruit slowly and carefully in a long strip sized way in a circular motion.  

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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