Cocktail Basics: Citrus Garnishes 6 Ways Straight Up Cocktails and Spirits

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Nora Maynard)

Wheels, slices, wedges, spirals, twists – and flamed twists. When it comes to citrus garnishes, cocktail recipes can get quite specific. Here’s everything you need to know to garnish like a pro:


Used in Margaritas, Dark and Stormies, Bloody Marys, and countless other fresh-tasting classics, citrus wedges are usually served perched on the rim of a glass, and can be optionally squeezed and dropped into the drink once it’s served.

Technique: Slice off the polar ends (top stem and bottom tip) of the fruit, then slice the fruit in half lengthwise (from top to bottom). Now cut each individual half into thirds (for small fruit like limes) or quarters (for larger fruits like lemons). Finally, slice a small notch partway through the center of each wedge (see picture directly below) to fit the glass’s rim.

(Image credit: Nora Maynard)

Wheels and Slices
Used to garnish Screwdrivers, Pimm’s Cups, Ramos Gin Fizzes, among other cocktails, orange wheels and slices (a.k.a. half wheels) make nice decorative – and also edible – accompaniments to a drink.

Technique: First slice off the polar ends of the fruit (when using thick-skinned navel oranges, make sure you cut deeply enough to remove the white pith and expose the flesh). To make wheels, continue slicing crosswise to make thin slabs of a quarter inch or so. For “slices,” cut these wheels in half. Both wheels and slices may be cut with a small notch to fit over the rim of a glass.

(Image credit: Nora Maynard)

Used in Cosmopolitans, Poinsettias, and countless other cocktails, a “twist” is a floating garnish consisting of a wafer-thin oval of citrus peel. More than just decorative flourishes, twists add flavor and dimension to cocktails thanks to all the aromatic oils concentrated in the peel.

Technique: First cut off the bottom of the fruit, then place it on the cutting board cut-side down to make a stable base. With a paring knife, gently slice off a thin oval of peel, moving the blade away from yourself, outwards in a downwards direction (see picture below). Make the cut as shallow and even as possible so as to get a minimum of white pith. Once your cocktail is ready to be served, gently twist the peel over the glass to release its essential oils, then drop it into the drink.

(Image credit: Nora Maynard)


Flamed Twist
With a little added heat, a twist can become even more flavorful and complex.

Technique: Make a twist as described above, but don’t release the oils yet. Using thumb and forefinger, gently hold the peel by its edges (colored side out), taking care not to bend it. Hold a lit match underneath. Now flex the peel to release the oils towards the flame and into the drink. Finally, drop the peel into the cocktail.

This one doesn’t come into use very often (the Horse’s Neck is the only cocktail we’ve tried it in), but since it’s so spectacular, we thought we’d give it a mention anyway just for fun.

Technique: Select only the freshest, firmest, and thickest-skinned citrus specimens for this job. Using a paring knife (for a thick spiral as pictured at the very top of this post), or a channel-cutting tool (for a perfectly even, spaghetti-thin spiral), start at the top of the fruit and cut slowly and carefully in a long, continuous strip, circling outward. Arrange the finished spiral inside a tall, narrow glass, with one end draped over the rim.