Bartender Know-How: Cocktail Garnishes


Speakeasy Co. is back with Cocktail Garnishes 101.


“You eat first with your eyes, then your nose, and then your mouth.”

Yeah, it’s an old saying, but it’s particularly germane this month. And, for the record, we couldn’t agree more. As soon as a dish is served, you’re assessing it without even knowing it. The crust on the steak, the vivid green of the broccoli, plump grains of rice through hot steam. You’re tasting it with your eyes and nose before you ever actually taste it, and a good chef will have you loving the dish before it ever touches your tongue.

Just as it does for food, this holds true for cocktails as well. And this brings us to the garnish.


As bartenders, there’s nothing that annoys us more than going to a bar and getting a slimy lemon or a gross, browning lime. There’s honestly no better way to tell your customers that you don’t care about what you’re doing than that. Citrus wedges are basic, 101 stuff — appropriate at times, but unimpressive in both sight and smell — and if your bartender can’t do that right, how are you supposed to trust them with an actual drink?

Every time we train a bar-staff, we hit this as hard as we can: garnishes should leap out of the glass. Their job — their only job — is to make the cocktail more appealing. The garnish should smell great, look even better, and get your mouth watering to drink that cocktail.

Most people think garnishes are just what’s in those ugly plastic trays at sports bars: lemons, limes, oranges, olives, and cherries. The truth, obviously, is that anything can be a garnish, especially if you think of them as a way to enhance your aroma, or showcase your creativity, or both.

What’s the coolest or craziest garnish you’ve ever seen? Bloody Marys are famous in this game, as are Tiki drinks. At one bar, Linwood Essentials in Toronto, we’ve seen a cocktail garnished with a love poem, attached to the rim of the glass with a miniature clothespin. It was amazing.

{ article originally appeared here | top image via }


Spirit Review: Leopold Bros. Tart Cherry Liqueur


Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased unless stated otherwise.

Product: Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur

Category: Liqueurs

Distillery: Leopold Bros. of Denver, CO

ABV: 40 proof or 20% ABV

Tasting Notes: Jammy, sweet… good cherry pie filling comes to mind. A subtle tartness keeps it from being too cloying.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: This would be amazing in red sangria but I ‘m also obsessed with using it in place of sweet vermouth i.e. in a Negroni, Manhattan or my Summer Cherry Boulevardier (my most popular cocktail post to date!). You could also drizzle this over ice cream or add it to aforementioned pie filling… but my personal favorite application: splashed into champagne!

Similar Products: As far as main stream liqueurs go, it probably most closely resembles Chambord (raspberry liqueur) or Crème de cassis (black current liqueur) because of it’s red fruit flavor profile and distinct jammy-ness. Heering is another classic cherry liqueur.

Final Thoughts: Amazing true fruit flavor makes this an ideal choice for when you want a berry/red fruit liqueur but don’t want to default to those pricey, mainstream brands. Leopold Bros. products have great placement in Bevmo and other liquor stores so you should be able to find them pretty easily. (Find a bottle near you here.) I simply love that Leopold Bros. uses all natural cherries from Michigan in each batch. The flavor and texture of this liqueur is second to none.

Hibiscus Royale

IMG_3728{ All photos by Bryan Miller }

I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of you who came out to the French Riviera Soirée at the Westgate Hotel’s rooftop pool this past weekend! It was such a pleasure to meet some Distillerista readers and spend time poolside with friends. In addition to the Aztec Cure I shared last week, this Hibiscus Royale was one of several gorgeous cocktails being shaken up by resident mixologist Irving Gonzalez at the event. The hibiscus tea + cilantro combo is so refreshing and light, I just had to recreate it for you here. Quick tip: I’ve found that I like this drink best with a weak hibiscus tea – so much so that it’s more like a hibiscus-infused spa water. Try steeping the hibiscus tea (loose or bag) for just half the time it calls for. Either way, take it from me: you’ll definitely want to whip up a few of these before pool season ends.

Hibiscus Royale. Makes 1 cocktail.


  • 2 oz your favorite vodka (my 5 faves here)
  • 2.5 oz weak hibiscus tea, cooled
  • .5 oz agave syrup
  • cilantro sprig to garnish


  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine vodka, hibiscus tea, agave syrup and a handful of ice
  2. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds
  3. Strain into a glass over fresh ice
  4. In the palm of your hand, smack/slap the cilantro to release the oils and aroma. Place in glass and enjoy!

IMG_3723{ What’s You & Yours Distilling Co.?, you ask?! Find out more here and get this rad t-shirt here! }

You might also like:

Aztec Cure


I can’t wait for this Saturday’s pool party I’m co-hosting with my pals and fellow bloggers/entrepreneurs/small business owners Cecelia, Krystel and Kali at the Westgate Hotel. My excitement is partially because I get to frolic around a rooftop pool with friends (and hopefully meet some of you!), but mostly because I get to sip on one of these Aztec Cures.

When planning this pool party a couple months back, the girls and I took one for the team and tested EVERY. SINGLE. cocktail on the Westgate’s bar menu. For research purposes of course. It’s a tough job but somebody had to do it and this Mezcal & strawberry number was by far my fave. I thought I’d recreate it for you here in honor of this weekend’s festivities. If you’re in the San Diego area, I hope you’ll join us for the fun! Tickets are just $25 and include a $25 voucher to Vocabulary Boutique – win win!

Aztec Cure. Makes 1 cocktail.



  1. In the bottom of a cocktail shaker, muddle the strawberry halves.
  2. Add Mezcal, lemon juice, agave, bitters and a handful of ice to shaker. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds.
  3. Strain into a glass over fresh ice and top with soda water.
  4. Garnish with an edible flower & enjoy!


{ Photos by Bryan Miller }


Hibscus Greyhound


Artisan bitters, thought of as the salt and pepper to cocktail recipes, are popping up everywhere these days.  Now if you don’t regularly make manhattans or martinis, I wouldn’t expect bitters to be part of your heavy home cocktail bar rotation, but if you enjoy making cocktails at home I highly recommend you pick up a bottle or two! Very much like salt and pepper, bitters have the ability to transform a cocktail. They’re integral to classics like Old Fashioneds and Champagne Cocktails, but they can elevate even the most basic of mixed drinks. A vodka soda with a dash or two of orange bitters is instantly a better, more complex drink.

Because they’re so versatile and transformative, I love experimenting with new flavors of bitters in my cocktails at home. Lime bitters give my Pineapple Vodka Limeades a nice complexity, Classic Aromatic take my Lemon Whiskey Cider cocktails to a whole new level and Black Walnut bitters send this After Midnight nightcap over the edge. But enough about bitters (I swear I’m getting to the point of this post). The reason for the shameless bitters plug is because one of my favorite bitters makers, Hella Company, has branched out from bitters into cocktail syrups and mixers! The guys at Hella (not from the Bay, curiously) were kind enough to send me a couple of their new products, one of which is this gorgeous Hibiscus Cocktail Mixer.

My favorite thing about these new Hella cocktail syrups is that they’re not sickly sweet like some others can be. They’re beautifully balanced by just a hint of – you guessed it – bitter notes! The tangy floral sweetness of the hibiscus (not to mention the drop dead gorg color) coupled with the subtle bitter profile plays delightfully well in a greyhound. Scroll down for the recipe below.


Hibiscus Hound. Makes 1 drink.


*Recipe recommends 1 oz each, but I doubled to 2 oz to create a longer lasting cocktail. Just make sure stick with the 1:1:1 ratio.


  1. Fill a glass with ice. Pour in vodka, Hibiscus Syrup, and grapefruit juice.
  2. Stir gently until ice cold and garnish with a lime wedge.
  3. Garnish & enjoy!


Thank you to Hella Company for inspiring this post!

Spirit Review: KROBĀR Gin


Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased unless stated otherwise.

Product: KROBĀR Gin a.k.a. “Botanical Brandy,” as you see in the photo above, a descriptive name used to circumvent pesky California distilling license regulations.

Category: American Gin, but I find it leans a touch toward London Dry in terms of style

Distillery: KROBĀR Distillery of Paso Robles, CA

ABV: 87 Proof or 43.5%

Tasting Notes: Lots of warm spice – anise, cardamom, coriander – and well balanced juniper.

Ideal Cocktail Pairings: Any cocktail where you’d use a textbook London Dry. This gin has no shortage of big dried spice and botanical flavor. If full bodied, spicy London Drys are your thing, you’ll love it in a Martini.

Similar Products: Not much comes to mind, but it reminds me slightly of Portland, OR’s Aria Gin.

Final Thoughts: I find the anise and other spice notes a bit overwhelming. It’s worth noting however that I’m typically a fan of more citrus forward gins rather than big, dusty London Drys. If you love London Dry styles though, this gin would definitely be worth a try. Speaking of my tendency to reach for citrus forward gins, I recently infused the last bits of this KROBĀR gin with Meyer Lemon peels and end result was phenomenal. (Combine the peel of 3 Meyer lemons with roughly 25 oz gin and let sit for 5 days at room temp, giving a good shake daily.)

Whether or love gin or hate it, if you find yourself in Paso Robles you must stop by the KROBĀR distillery. Owners Stephen and Joe are lovely hosts and super knowledgeable wine business vets. They also have a Rye whiskey and a barrel aged version of this gin (which I LOVED) to try!

3 min read: A local news article highlighting the burgeoning craft distilling scene in Paso Robles + be sure to check out previous reviews of Leopold Bros. Aperitivo and Liberty Call White Rum.

Summer Inspiration: Watermelon Cocktails

IMG_9796{ sneak peek at an upcoming project! photo by the sensationally talented Caroline }

I recently had the opportunity to contribute some content for a print piece on working with watermelon in cocktails (will share more soon!) and thought I’d share my research/inspiration with you. Watermelon is super easy and versatile to use in drinks because it blends up into such a nice liquid texture. Here are seven watermelon libations that caught my eye!

Heads up, when looking for watermelon cocktail recipes, almost all pair the sweet summer fruit with spice (like jalapeños or serranos) or mint, but watermelon also pairs beautifully with berries, other types of melon and even lavender or rose water!


1. A fun spin on a classic: white rum-spiked Watermelon Mint Lemonade from Host the Toast


2. Gushing over Claire’s Spicy Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca – BYO tequila or mezcal


3. This gorgeous Watermelon Strawberry Citrus Sangria from Joy the Baker has me giddy.


4. My personal fave: Watermelon Gin Punch with lime and – you guessed it! – mint, from Love + Cupcakes


5. A stunning Watermelon Jalapeño Vodka Spritzer made with strawberry kombucha from the gals at Goldwire


6. Fun Watermelon Lime Granita from Lemon Stripes – her recipe is alcohol-free but would be so good with a splash of tequila or even champagne!


7. The prettiest ROSE SALT-RIMMED Watermelon Lavender Margaritas, need I say more?

Golden Citrus


I dug into this frothy concoction after returning home from a fun 4th of July weekend road trip and checking my overloaded mailbox. My monthly cocktail subscription kit from Speakeasy Co. had arrived and this ‘Golden Citrus’ was just what the doctor ordered after long hours in the car followed by the killjoy of unpacking all the dusty camping gear. Scroll down for the recipe!


This cocktail recipe, along with all the ingredients to mix up two drinks, came in my June Speakeasy Co. box. Read more about Speakeasy Co. (formerly Thirty3Club) and check out a fun instructional video on their website to watch how to make on this citrusy sensation. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 6.14.38 PM


  • 1½ oz. Golden Bee (a honey sweetened grain neutral spirit from Ellensburg Distillery; substitute your favorite vodka)
  • ¾ oz. Lime Juice
  • ¾ oz. Pineapple Syrup
  • Candied Citrus Peels to garnish


1. Using the jigger, measure the following and pour into the mixing glass:

– ¾ oz. lime juice
– ¾ oz. pineapple syrup
– 1 ½ oz. Golden Bee

2. Add ice to the mixing glass and place the shaker on top with a firm tap. Shake vigorously for 10-15 seconds, allowing the mixture to go from one end of the shaker to the other.

3. Separate the mixing glass by applying a firm tap where the glass and shaker are no longer flush.

4. Add ice to your rocks glass and use the Hawthorne strainer to strain the contents of the mixing glass into the rocks glass.

5. Take the candied citrus peels and sprinkle a few on top of your cocktail. Enjoy!

You might also enjoy:

  1. A similar flavor profile… Pineapple Vodka Limeades
  2. Honey-sweetened Gin Punch
  3. Another Speakeasy Co. cocktail, the Blood of the Scorpion

Spirit Review: Liberty Call White Rum


Introducing a new series, Distillerista Spirit Reviews! All spirits featured in this series are products I’ve personally purchased to try unless stated otherwise.

Product: White Rum (A gift from distiller Bill Rogers!)

Distillery: Liberty Call Distilling Co. of Spring Valley, CA

Category: White/Silver/Unoaked Rums

ABV: 45% or 90 proof

Price: $25  (Find a bottle here.)

Tasting notes: Tons of stone fruit, especially apricot plus a healthy dose of tropical fruit on the nose and the finish – banana, pineapple, melon.

Ideal cocktail pairings: The tropical fruit notes beg for classics like a daiquiri or mojito and speaking of classics, I happen to love it in a Cuba Libre (classy name for a rum + coke). I also recommend it in my beet juice daiquiri.

Similar products: Other local rums Malahat and Old Harbor provide stiff competition but I have to say Liberty Call is my favorite of the three when it comes to white rum specifically.

Final thoughts: I don’t count myself as an avid rum drinker or connoisseur by any means but this rum makes me have second thoughts when I would otherwise reach for gin or vodka. I love the fruity sweetness and the tropical fruit notes it has thanks to Bill‘s Dunder pit fermentation system. If you’re not familiar, using a Dunder pit is a tactic (historically used by rum distillers in the Caribbean) where some of the mash is kept back from the batch each time and allowed to sit, ferment further and get super funky. The strawberry and banana flavors that come from this rarely used technique are out of this world!

3 min read: Great Rum Without Rotting Goat Heads, The Daily Beast (Interesting article on how one distiller was determined to match the fruitiness of dunder rum without using a dunder pit)


{ You might also like: Beet Juice Daiquiri &  Distiller Interview: Bill Rogers of Liberty Call }