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How to Decorate a Cocktail Like a Professional Bartender

When ordering a cocktail at a restaurant, there are two primary components that bartenders focus on most: how it tastes and how it looks. Though the taste of a cocktail is what ultimately determines if you love it or hate it, the presentation is what takes it to the next level. In fact, some of our favorite drinks are those that taste good and look great. 

When making cocktails at home, this presentation factor is often overlooked. And while it may not affect how the drink tastes, it will undoubtedly affect how your guests feel about it. Beautiful glassware, special tinctures, and unique garnishes are just a few of the many ways that you can upgrade your event, making it a day to remember. If you're ready to mix and decorate cocktails like a professional bartender, keep scrolling. We've consulted well-known professionals in the space to create a step-by-step guide to cocktail decoration.

Choosing the Right Cocktail Glass

To make a restaurant-worthy cocktail, you'll need to choose the correct glass. Here's a quick overview of some of the most common cocktail glasses and the drinks they work best with.

Collins Glass

One of the most common cocktail glasses, you'll find a collins glass at any well-stocked bar. It's tall skinny, and the ideal glassware for a variety of mixed drinks. A collins glass is slightly taller than a highball glass and received its name from the famous Tom Collins Cocktail, which tastes delicious when poured into this glassware.

Coupe Glass

Coupe glasses are often used interchangeably with a champagne saucer and feature a long stem and broad, shallow saucer. It's used for serving up mixed drinks that have been shaken and stirred. Because these drinks are usually enjoyed without ice, the stem on the glass prevents your hand from warming it up too quickly. 

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Margarita Glass

A variant of the coupe glass, a margarita glass is stemmed and features a vast bowl—ideal for holding your favorite margarita recipe. It's typically used to serve margaritas that have been blended or iced, and the wide rim easily accommodates salt for added taste and texture.

Martini Glass

A timeless drink, martini glasses are as iconic as martinis themselves. A staple of cocktail glassware since the 1900s, the martini glass separates itself from the rest by featuring a long stem. This being so, cocktails poured into it don't have to rely on ice to keep the drink cool since the long stem keeps it away from warm hands and countertops. The long stem also allows the creator flexibility in the design, and many martini glasses feature creative and curvy stems.  

Rocks Glass

If you're going to purchase just one type of glass, we'd recommend a set of rocks glasses. This type of glass comes in two varieties: single and double rocks glasses. Both are smaller than traditional cups. However, the double rocks glass is slightly larger than the single one. Though the rocks glass was originally chosen for serving spirits neat or on the rocks, they are also often used to serve cocktails like the Old Fashioned. 

Cocktail Decorations

Now that you know what glass is required to serve your cocktail correctly, it's time to begin decorating. Continue scrolling to discover some of the unique cocktail decoration ideas and determine which best suits your drink of choice.

Turn Herbs into Skewers

Nothing says fancy, like a fruit stacked skewer in your favorite drink. By turning the stems of herbs like rosemary and lavender into a skewer, you can boost the aesthetics and flavor of your cocktail in minutes. To successfully turn sturdy herb stems into skewers, choose the fruit you'd like to stack wisely. For example, cranberries, oranges, berries, and pineapple work well in sweet and citrusy drinks. Whereas combos like rosemary and lemon taste great when paired with more steady cocktails like an old-fashioned or gin and tonic.

Add Candied Fruit

Fresh fruit is a popular cocktail addition. However, we suggest swapping the fresh fruit for a candied version when decorating like a professional. By candying fruit in sugar and spices, you'll enhance the look and taste of the garnish as well as the cocktail. Then, drop the candied fruits into your cocktail, or slide them onto a metal skewer and stir. The result? A cocktail that looks as great as it tastes. Just imagine the look on your friends' faces when you deliver our readymade mai tai cocktail in a tropical-themed glass with an expertly candied cherry as a garnish? And that's before they even taste that tropical goodness!

Peel Your Citrus

Sometimes just a tiny amount of flavor is needed to take a cocktail to the next level. If you're looking for a way to spice things up without overdoing it, add a twist of citrus to your next mixed drink creation. By separating the fruit from the peel, you'll keep the fresh flavor of citrus without changing the taste of your drink entirely. A creatively sliced peel can be spiralized and set atop of your glass or cut and wrapped around a statement ice cube—the choice is yours!

Spice Up The Rim—Literally

Don't have much time to decorate your cocktail? The quickest way to improve the look of almost any cocktail is to dress up the rim. When serving sweet cocktails, a sugared rim works perfectly. To add sugar to the rim of your glass, only two ingredients are required: granulated sugar and a bit of lime or lemon juice. Separate the ingredients onto two different plates, and begin by dipping the edges of your glass in the lime juice first. Then, dip it in the sugar and tap the glass to remove any excess before serving.

When serving a more zesty drink like a Mango Chamoy Margarita, skip the sugar and opt for salt or tajin instead. Use like juice and repeat the process above. Depending on the cocktail, spices like cinnamon, cayenne, and smoked salt may also work well.

Ice Cubes

The type of Ice cube used can make a significant difference in how a cocktail looks. Though ice cubes are most often used to keep a cocktail cool, they're a simple way to take the appearance of your drink up a notch. Ice cubes make a novel decoration and add color to a drink when they contain fruit juice, syrup, or pure. Special ice cube molds like stars, hearts, and circles can also put a fun spin on your favorite drink.

Additionally, chopped fruits like strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and grapes can be frozen into ice cubes. They'll look great when stirred into a cocktail, and as the ice cube melts, it will add a bit of flavor. Or, skip the water altogether as opt for frozen fruit instead of ice cubes. Again, the fruit will look excellent floating around and serve as a fun treat once it thaws.

Straws

A no-fail way to brighten up any drink, straws can be purchased in many shapes, sizes, and colors. Because they require minimal effort, they're a fun way to heighten the look of your cocktail in minutes. Additionally, providing a novel arrangement of straws can help guests identify which drink is theirs. So, if you're planning a specific event like a birthday, bachelorette, or holiday party, search for straws that match the theme. Though it might seem like a small detail to fret over, it appeals to guests of all ages, making your cocktail memorable and unique. 

Cinnamon Sticks

Dressing up a cocktail that screams wintertime? Swap the mixing stick with a cinnamon stick. Popular winter cocktails like mulled wine, apple cider, and glogg taste even better when a cinnamon stick is added to the recipe. Though the cinnamon will undoubtedly add flavor, it will also provide the drink with a more complete look. It's a great way to warm up on a chilly evening and creates a cocktail that you will be proud to share.

Citrus Wheels

Create a cocktail worthy of a "Sex and The City" scene by adding a citrus wheel to the rim. A simple yet classic garnish thinly sliced citrus wheels may not impact the taste of a cocktail very much, but they certainly improve the smell. While fresh citrus wheels are the most common type used, dehydrated citrus wheels have recently become more popular. They add a unique look to cocktails and symbolic a more sustainable cocktail movement—one in which every bit of an ingredient is used instead of discarded. To make a fresh citrus wheel, use a sharp knife to cut the fruit into ⅙" slices. Remove the seeds from the slice, and then cut a slit in the wheel from the center to peel. Place it on the edge of the glass and enjoy! Bonus points if you use this technique with our premade cosmopolitan and really bring out your Carrie vibes!

Turn your home bar into a restaurant-worthy one by using the cocktail decoration ideas above. From herbs and spices to carefully created ice cubes, you can serve up sharp-looking cocktails that guests will rave about with just a bit of effort.