Cocktail onions don’t get as much play as olives or lemon twists at the bar. But they’re a delicious garnish (or snack) that is easy to make at home. A Gibson (which is just a Martini garnished with onions) is the most notable use for these, but you could also use cocktail onions in other savory drinks like a Bloody Mary.
Going DIY with cocktail onions is simple—and skips the weird preservatives the store-bought variety often have. Here are a few recipes to choose from … or make them all! Pearl onions are sweeter than your typical onion, aside from being the right size. You can even buy them frozen and peeled for your convenience.
Basic Cocktail Onions ~ These have a standard pickling brine that you can adjust to taste, if you’re feeling creative.
Spicy Pickled Onions ~ For a spicier take on the cocktail onion, this recipe includes some fresh chili peppers.
Now that spring is here, why not dress up your cocktails with some gorgeous flowers? I love dropping a colorful bloom or two in my drink—like the violets in the Delft Blue cocktail. One of the (many, many) things I loved about the cocktails in Hawaii is that they usually came with an orchid garnish. It just lifts my spirits more than a sprig of mint or a lime ever could.
Of course, you want to be sure to use flowers that are non-toxic. If you’re not sure, ask a florist or master gardener. I like to use edible flowers, even though you’re normally not going to eat them. Here are some beautiful ones that are cocktail-ready:
A cocktail is just more fun when it involves (intentionally) setting something on fire. In this case, it’s an orange peel. Aside from the spectacle, the point of a flaming orange twist garnish is to impart some citrus oil and a little smoke to your drink. It’s wholly optional—an unflamed citrus twist will do the job, too—yet wholly entertaining.
This garnish is for drinks with aged dark spirits or a lot of bitterness. So it’s too intense for, say, a Martini or Mojito and definitely overkill for a Piña Colada. But enough no, here’s some yes. Try it with these drinks:
I have a confession to make: I’m not a good garnisher! I am very careful when it comes to making the cocktail. (Even though I’m good at free pouring, you will not see me make a drink without meticulous measuring.) But by the end, when it’s garnish time, I’m done being precise. So this tutorial on how to make a lemon spiral, isn’t just for y’all. It’s also for me!
If I’m not worried about making it pretty, I’ll just use a vegetable peeler to peel off a thin piece of lemon zest as a twist for a drink. It’s not fancy, but it does the job. Lemon oil gets added to the drink, even if it’s not elegant looking. But it’s actually not that hard to pizzazz it up a little with a spiral.
A lemon twist or spiral is many people’s Martini garnish of choice as well as a good accompaniment to a French 75 or Sidecar. You can use this technique with any citrus, say, orange for your Old Fashioned or grapefruit for your Salty Dog.
Watch this video with Jamie Boudreau from the Small Screen Network and you’ll see that a pretty citrus spiral just isn’t that hard to do:
Ice doesn’t always get its due as a cocktail ingredient. You can’t have a good cocktail without ice! But ice can do more than be cold and melt––it can also be pretty. Beautify plain-old frozen-water ice cubes by adding edible flowers or berries. Or make your drink into time-elapse art with cubes that slowly add color to your cocktail as they melt. Of course water isn’t the only thing that freezes, so anything from lemonade to coffee can be frozen into flavorful cubes. Here are a few of my favorite creative cubes:
The California Terroir Project shares a gorgeous drink called “The Leach” that features hibiscus tea ice cubes that slowly melt to give the drink a bright color as well as add a light floral flavor.
Another take on time-released color is “The Time Bomb” from Alcademics, which puts food coloring in the middle of your cubes for a drink that goes from clear to black.
Martha Stewart’s simple floral ice cubes will make a simple drink like a Gin & Tonic look elegant enough for any occasion.
Jammy Chicken even has ice cubes to match all sorts of drinks. Coffee cubes to go with coffee concoctions, lemonade cubes for that Arnold Palmer, and so on. You can take that idea and make it match your cocktail or soda creation.
It’s a garnish! It’s a snack! It’s … maraschino cherries. But I mean the kind you’d actually want to eat.
I’ve always hated the taste and texture of those neon-red, artificial maraschino cherries that seem to be the norm when it comes to garnishing drinks. Homemade maraschino cherries are so much better … full of real cherry sweetness and a much more pleasing soft-but-not-mushy texture. Best of all, DIY cocktail cherries are ridiculously easy to make. The hardest part is pitting the cherries, but it’s the kind of prep work you can do while watching TV (or you can bribe a child to do it).
I make ‘em with whatever cherries I can find (usually Bing), but sour cherries are closest to the traditional Marasca cherries used. It’s a really flexible project. Maraschino liqueur is made from cherry pits and has a nice sweet and nutty flavor. Luxardo is the easiest brand to find. But if you don’t want to use maraschino liqueur, you can use another kind of liqueur or a combination of liquor and sugar or honey. One of my favorite variations is to use bourbon and honey in place of the liqueur (or a bourbon honey liqueur, like American Honey).
DIY Maraschino Cherries
1 cup maraschino liqueur
1 pint cherries, pitted and stemmed
Simmer the liqueur in a small sauce pot. Remove from heat and add in the cherries. Once the mixture has cooled, pour it in a glass jar and refrigerate for at least 48 hours before use. Store in the refrigerator for up to two months.