How To Rim Cocktail Glasses: A Guide For The Aspiring Bartender

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As a bartender, you know that rimming a cocktail glass is an essential step to completing some drinks. It’s also one of the simplest preparations, but it greatly impacts taste and presentation. When rimming a glass, you’ll need something sticky or wet so that your rimming ingredients will adhere to the tip of the cocktail glass.

If you correctly follow our guide below, you’ll be able to create beautiful and tasty drinks in no time. We’ll also provide tips so you can work on your cocktails efficiently and creatively. 

We've got you covered whether you're looking for a classic margarita or something new and unique. Grab your bartending tools, and let's get started!

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What is the Purpose of Rimming Glasses?

Sidecar Cocktail with a sugar rim

A trusty lemon, orange, or lime have always been the go-to garnishes and life-giver to cocktails. However, when rimming cocktail glasses was first introduced to the world, it clicked in the industry right away!

Joseph Santini invented the crusta in 1855, a fancy variation of the New Orleans cocktail, a drink with a sugared rim that became an immediate hit with patrons.

Rimmed cocktails became even more popular in 1862 after being featured in Jerry Thomas’s published bar guidebook, which happened to be the world's first of its kind. Up until now, it's still a famous practice and a crucial step for certain cocktails.

Rimming has served its aesthetic purposes effectively, but that isn't the only reason why mixologists decided to keep it. Other than beauty effects, rimming can also elevate your cocktail drinking experience by providing extra texture and complementary or contrasting notes that suit your cocktails' flavor profile.

People tend to drink their cocktails directly by the glass so they can taste the drink and the rimmer at the same time. Then, they rotate the glass every time they sip until the rim and the drink are entirely consumed.

In some instances, people alternate by drinking from the glass and through cocktail straws because they may find the salt or sugar rim overwhelming when consumed entirely.

Common Ingredients for Rimming Glasses

Rimmed Cocktail Glasses

For the most basic form, you only need two ingredients when rimming glasses: a liquid component that has a sticky consistency and salt or sugar. Since cocktails evolved and became more creative, so did the presentation part.

With this, you can expect to see different sticking ingredients used, mostly syrups and a variety of rimming elements, both sweet and salty. Here are some ingredients used to rim glasses:

Adhering Agents

Assorted Citrus Fruits
  1. Water - Many bartenders and mixologists opt to use water as a sticking agent because it is flavorless and thus doesn't incorporate other flavors into the cocktail that may ruin it. However, it dries quickly, causing the rimming ingredient not to stick well sometimes.
  2. Fresh Citrus Wedges - This is arguably the most used sticking agent for rimming cocktails. It works best with salt and is commonly used for vodka-based cocktails. One problem with it, though, is it tends to dribble down the glass quickly.
  3. Simple Syrup - This is often used for sweet cocktails. It goes well with sweet rimming ingredients, too, such as crushed Oreos. You can also easily make this at home with sugar and water.
  4. Chocolate Sauce - This is almost exclusively used in chocolate cocktails such as chocolate martini and chocolate margarita. A dark chocolate sauce would be a better option to balance out the sweetness of the chocolate cocktail.
  5. Caramel Sauce - You can also easily make this at home with brown sugar, butter, vanilla, salt, and cream. It's used with sweet rimming ingredients such as sugar, cinnamon, and cookies but also goes well with salt for a salted caramel martini.
  6. Honey - Bartenders usually like honey because of its viscosity. This is also a versatile sticking agent that works great with sweet and salty rimmers, especially in a Honey Lime Margarita.
  7. Maple Syrup - This sweet syrup has vanilla notes that go well with a vanilla-forward cocktail. It isn't particularly a go-to sticking agent, but it's famously used for a Maple Bourbon Sidecar with an orange sugar rim.
  8. Frosting - There's no better rimmer partner for frosting than sprinkles. This duo is actually a popular one that's used both in cocktails and milkshakes! Try a Sugar Cookie Martini for this rim!
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Rimming Ingredients

Different salts in bowls
  1. Salt - This is widely known as one of the earliest rimming ingredients used. It magnifies the flavors of a cocktail, enhances sweetness, complements citrus flavors, and cuts out bitterness from the alcohol. The most common salts used for margaritas are sea salt, celery salt, and kosher salt.
  2. Sugar - The sugar rim is a simple yet clever way to add some extra sweetness on top of your cocktails. Granulated sugar is often used, but you can substitute it with brown sugar, powdered sugar, or turbinado sugar. If you use colored sugar, you will have a festive-looking cocktail!
  3. Coconut Flakes - Rims composed of coconut flakes or shavings can be a great addition to any tropical cocktail recipes made with mango, pineapple, lemon juice, and coconut milk, such as the classic piña colada. But it's also amazing in dessert cocktails such as coconut martini, Christmas Margarita, and Coconut-Key Lime Pie Martini.
  4. Tajin - Tossing a little Tajin into your cocktail can really give it that extra something. This Mexican seasoning comprises sea salt, various ground red chilies, and dehydrated lime juice.
  5. Graham cracker crumbs - A Pumpkin Pie Martini wouldn't be complete without its matching crushed graham crackers rim. It adds a bit of sweetness, nutty flavor, and texture with every sip of the cocktail. You can also try it with chocolate drinks.
  6. Cocoa Powder - Rim a cocktail glass with cocoa powder instead of chocolate shavings to infuse a chocolate note into your sweet cocktail without the cloying sweetness. You can try this rim with the Cocoa-Currant Cocktail.
  7. Crushed Candy / Sprinkles - Dessert cocktails are more fun when sprinkles or crushed candy are added! They can make any cocktail look vibrant and full of life and provide sweetness to counter the bitterness of the alcohol. You can even use pop rocks for an exciting popping sensation on the mouth.
  8. Cinnamon - This is known to have a mild sweetness and more spiciness. Some people like the cinnamon's unique taste notes but want to reduce its spiciness, so they add equal parts of brown sugar and cinnamon—more commonly known as cinnamon sugar. 

Cinnamon rims are perfect for cocktails made with cinnamon-flavored alcohol, such as the Fireball Whiskey.

  1. Oreo Crumbs - You can use this rimming ingredient for any Oreo, cookie, or chocolate-themed cocktail you have in mind. It works wonderfully in a spiked milkshake too!
  2. Spices / Herbs - Adding touches of spices and herbs to cocktails isn't new, whether as a garnish or rim. You can up your salt game in a glass of margarita by combining kosher and celery salt with spices and herbs such as cumin, granulated garlic, mustard powder, cayenne pepper, powdered ginger, smoked paprika, and black pepper.

How To Rim a Glass

What You’ll Need 

  • Glass - Make sure to use a sturdy cocktail glass. There are various cocktail glasses with unique cocktail designations. For example, if you're making a classic margarita, use a margarita glass. The other most commonly used glasses to rim are martini and shot glasses.
  • Plates / Saucers - This is where you'll be putting the sticking agents and rimming ingredients. A wide and shallow bowl or plate would be neat for this job as there's enough space.
  • Sticking agent - Choose what suits your liking and make sure that it suits the vibe and flavor profile of the cocktail and rimming ingredient you're using.
  • Rimming ingredient - This should also follow what was required of the sticking agent. Choose what you want but make sure it complements the sticking agent and also the entire cocktail. Read further to learn sticking agent and rimming ingredient combos!
  • Glass Rimmer (optional) - This is a simple but effective tool that can be used to rim your drink. A typical one consists of an array of shallow discs made out of plastic or metal where you can put your ingredients.

Method One: Dip and Release

Glasses of Lemon Drop Martini with Slices of Fruit

Some people use this method because it's easy and fast. It works well with a glass rimmer and is an efficient method for busy bars.

  1. Place your two saucers or plates next to each other.
  2. Pour your sticking agent into one saucer and the rimming ingredient into the other. Make sure to pour an amount that's just enough to cover the surface of the saucer. This ensures that the final rim is not too thick and prevents wastage.
  3. Lift your cocktail glass and position it upside down.
  4. Dip it in the sticking agent and twist.
  5. Lift the glass and let the excess liquid drip, but make sure it is still wet.
  6. Dip it in the rimming ingredient, lift, and shake off the excess.
  7. Position the cocktail glass upright, and you're ready to make your cocktail!

For a visual tutorial, here is a video for you to watch:

Method Two: Outside Rim Only

Tequila Shots with Lime

This method is similar to the dip and release, but it just rims the outer area. A con of the first method is that the rimming ingredient can fall off and mix with the cocktail, which can change the whole flavor of the cocktail. Since this method only rims the outer part of the glass, this problem would unlikely occur.

  1. Fill one saucer with the sticking agent and the other with the cocktail ingredient. You'll only need one saucer if using citrus fruit.
  2. Take your dry cocktail glass and position it at a 45-degree angle.
  3. Still maintaining the angle, dip the outer edge of the glass rim into the sticking agent. Make sure to coat only the outer edge. Also, ensure that your final rim will be inconsistent. If using citrus fruit, take the wedge, and run the pulp side on the outer rim.
  4. Dip the glass into the rimming ingredient, still maintaining the 45-degree angle.
  5. Shake the excess rimming ingredient off the glass. Check if there are bits of ingredients sticking in the inner area or at the bottom of the glass. Get rid of them if they have fallen inside with a towel.

Watch how this bartender does this method in this video tutorial:

Rimming Glasses and Drinking Tips

Don’t Overdo the Sticking Agent

Ensuring that the rim is evenly and adequately coated with a sticking agent is always an important step that shouldn't be overlooked. It's key to achieving a clean and consistent final rim.

For any first-timer, the initial thought would be the more sticking agent, the more the rimming ingredient sticks. This doesn't particularly work, as dipping the glass more than once makes more mess than beauty. The excess liquid could flow down the glass and mess up the entire presentation. cocktail recipes rim a cocktail glass

Don't Squeeze the Citrus

When rubbing the glass rim with the citrus, be sure to do it gently and not squeeze it. Juice can ooze out excessively and trickle down the glass, requiring extra time for cleaning. But You can avoid this with technique.

While most people wet the glass rim with a citrus wedge with the glass facing upwards, it's smarter to hold it upside down. This way, the lime juice will fall onto an outside surface.

Allow the Ingredients to Stick for a While

To make the ingredients stick to the glass longer, don't shake the excess rimming ingredient immediately after dipping the glass into it. Rim the glass beforehand and set it for about half an hour before making the cocktail. Then, you can clean the design using a towel so the rim is even. 

Try a Half-Rim

Sometimes, customers request bartenders not to do an entire rim; instead, they prefer to have it rimmed halfway only. This allows them to drink alternately with the rimmer and without.

Mix It Up!

When picking out a rimming ingredient for your delicious cocktail, do not just stick to one kind. A little creativity won't hurt, so feel free to mix two or even three rimming ingredients, as this adds more color, flair, and complexity to the flavor!

For example, if you're making a nice glass of margarita, you can add a twist to its traditional salt rim by adding crushed dried orange or lime peel. You can also arrange different colored sugar on a plate to achieve a rainbow effect. It depends on preference and what goes best with the cocktail.

Follow a Theme

Setting up a theme for a cocktail makes selecting the sticking agent and rimming ingredient easier as it will serve as a guide on how to match them with the cocktail itself.

If you're crafting a coconut rum-based cocktail, it makes sense to use coconut flakes at their rimmer. In the same way, if you're making the famous mudslide cocktail, use a chocolate syrup as the sticking agent and maybe cocoa powder as its rimming ingredient. It would be silly to use lime juice and tajin for a sweet and chocolatey drink, right?

Never forget that the rimming ingredient's purpose is to match the notes of the cocktail or to contrast it, but in the right way.

Choose Complimenting Components

It is important to match the right sticking agent that'll appropriately tone with the rimming ingredient. If you're still a beginner at cocktail rims, you should stick with complimenting components.

For instance, sugar is suitably used with a sticking agent that is also sweet, like simple syrup or honey. Salt is frequently used with a citrus sticking agent or water. As you progress, you can then try contrasting flavors.

Combo Suggestions

Here are some sticking-rimming ingredient combinations you can try:

  • Lemon wedge with minced citrus peel and sugar
  • Lime wedge with ground pink peppercorn and salt
  • Sweet honey with dried rose petals and white sugar
  • Lemon wedge with Kosher salt and chili powder
  • Sweet honey with lavender buds and honey crystals
  • Lime wedge with lime zest, sugar, and coarse salt
  • Base alcohol used with kosher salt and sriracha (baked)
  • Base alcohol used with fine bacon, celery salt, and cayenne powder mixture
  • Tajin and chamoy
  • Honey with crushed gingersnap cookies
  • Lemon wedge with salt and luster pearl dust
  • Simple syrup with cinnamon sugar
  • Honey with Oreo crumbs
  • Chocolate sauce with coconut flakes
  • Chocolate sauce with Graham cracker crumbs
  • Caramel sauce and crushed candy

Conclusion

Rimming a cocktail glass is very easy and can elevate the look of your drink and improve the tasting experience. So whether you’re making drinks for a party or doing your shift at the bar, follow the guidelines and tips above to give your cocktails that perfect finishing touch. 

Once you've mastered the basics, you can let your creativity fly by thinking of unique combinations with your ingredients. You can try these delicious margarita recipes to see how the different flavors of the rim and the drink play out: Pomegranate Margarita, Frozen Coconut Margarita, Pineapple Cinnamon Margarita.

Are you ready to try rimming your glasses? Let us know your favorite rimmed cocktails and preferred combinations by commenting below!

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