13 Best Fresh Garnishes For Whiskey Cocktails

Believe it or not, there is an actual reason why cocktails are served with a garnish. Actually, there are many reasons why drinks come complete with a finishing touch. Looks are just the beginning, as most of these final flourishes add flavor and aroma. However, not all are created equal, and what works with one type of booze might not pair well with another.

Whiskey is a versatile spirit, and there is a range of garnishes that you can use to complete all kinds of beverages that are prepared with it. Just like using fresh lemon juice and homemade syrups is essential when crafting a good cocktail, opting for fresh garnishes can elevate your drink's overall quality. Good whiskey deserves a good garnish, and we're big believers in the power of herbs, fruits, vegetables, and spices. These fresh garnishes are the reason why you should never let your whiskey cocktail go unadorned. 

Orange peel

If you assume that selecting an orange peel as a garnish for a cocktail is purely aesthetic, think again. Using the rind of this fruit rather than the juicy interior does more than just add a pleasant pop of color. Orange peels (often referred to as "twists" in the cocktail world) contain flavorful oils that provide the perfect hint of citrus to whiskey cocktails like an old fashioned.

To make the most out of these garnishes, you'll need to express the peel over the top of the cocktail. To do this, hold the peel rind-side-down over the glass and give it a quick squeeze. Then, rub it around the rim of the glass to ensure you get a taste of citrus in every sip. Opting for an orange peel rather than an orange slice means your whiskey drink won't be overpowered by the garnish, but will still contain enough flavor to add more than just visual interest.

Lemon peel

A lemon peel (or twist) serves the same function as its orange cousin when it comes to whiskey cocktails. It prevents drinkers from altering the ratio of acidity in the drink while adding just enough citrus oil and visual appeal. It's one of those things that you might not appreciate how much of a difference it makes until you try a drink that doesn't have the added brightness from the citrus oil. We promise you'll notice that something is missing.

Sazeracs, which are classic cocktails made with rye, sugar, Pechauds bitters, and a touch of absinthe are garnished with a lemon twist. Trust us, a sazerac without the finishing touch of citrus just isn't the same. You can also add a lemon twist to cocktails like a Gold Rush, Rusty Nail, or even a basic whiskey sour. If you're feeling confident, you can try making your twists longer and more decorative. If not, just using a fruit peeler to get a strip of the peel works just as well. 

Lemon wedge

Whether you're making drinks at home or enjoying a cocktail at your favorite dive bar, you can't go wrong with a lemon wedge when you want a quick, tried-and-true garnish. Lemon wedges are easy, accessible, and great on drinks like a whiskey sour. This one isn't going to win any awards for being the most unique or the most interesting to look at, but sometimes you just need something that will make your drink feel complete.

Lemon wedges can also serve the practical purpose of adding more brightness to your cocktail if you squeeze the juice into your whiskey cocktail. Just be sure to taste your drink before you do so since too much acidity will ruin your beverage. You can think about adding lemon juice to a drink like you would adding salt to a plate of food — you can always add more but you can never go back. Plus, if the bartender who made your drink knew what they were doing, your drink should taste balanced to begin with, so you should only add more juice if you like your cocktails particularly tart and acidic.


Cherries and whiskey pair beautifully together — if you're using the right cherries, that is. Splurging on Luxardo cocktail cherries is worth the extra cash (they aren't cheap), especially when you're using them as a garnish for a delicious cocktail like a classic Manhattan. Save the dyed, bright red version for a Shirley Temple (or a Dirty Shirley), and use the good ones to enhance your favorite whiskey cocktails.

But if they're in season, considering swapping a cocktail cherry for fresh fruit. Using a fresh cherry adds a summery twist, and it's great for people who don't like the overwhelmingly sweet flavor of the syrup-soaked varieties. You can even use fresh cherries in the base of your drink to add a juicy, fruity element. Just be careful about the pits — you don't want to crack a tooth after you've enjoyed one too many cocktails!

Adding a cherry to a Manhattan works well with the sweetness of the vermouth and adds contrast to the punchiness of the rye. Eating the cherry at the bottom of the glass is one of the most enjoyable parts of drinking a Manhattan, so don't skip this step if you're making your own. You can also add cherries to other cocktails like whiskey sours. Bars will often serve the cherry on a cocktail skewer rather than placing it directly in your beverage, which allows you to control whether or not you want your drink to have an added hit of sweet, fruity flavor.


Not all garnishes for whiskey cocktails have to be sweet and fruity. Nutmeg is a delicious option when you're in the mood for something warming and spicy. Adding a sprinkle to your cocktail instantly elevates the coziness factor of your drink, but it also serves another important purpose. Now, we recognize that nutmeg is technically dried, but you'll want to grate it fresh for enhanced flavor and aroma. Grating it yourself also gives you more control over the texture of the garnish.

If your whiskey cocktail contains an egg (either in the form of a whole egg or egg white foam), grating nutmeg on the top will prevent the drink from smelling like it. Eggnog made with whiskey and whiskey flips are perfect examples of cocktails that benefit from the magical power of grated nutmeg. Just remember that a little goes a long way, and too much can make your beverage hard to drink. We also like using nutmeg with drinks made with rye whiskey, since the two spice-heavy elements complement each other nicely.


Cinnamon and whiskey go so well together that there are even cinnamon-flavored whiskies on the market (we're looking at you, Fireball).  Just like with nutmeg, we recommend using cinnamon that is freshly grated for the optimal drinking experience. Trust us, the flavor and aroma of fresh cinnamon is far superior to its powdered cousin. 

While the idea of this spicy duo might bring back less than fond memories of drinking it out of the bottle in someone's basement, hear us out — there are plenty of ways to use cinnamon as a garnish for delicious, grown-up whiskey cocktails. One of our favorite examples is the whiskey and cold brew Prairie Buzz cocktail which benefits from a dusting of sweet heat (you can even add a touch of cinnamon syrup if you really want to amplify the flavor of the spice). Freshly grated cinnamon also comes in handy for warm whiskey drinks such as an Irish coffee.  


Herbs are another great way to finish off a whiskey-based cocktail — and mint helps make whiskey (which can be heavy) taste light and refreshing. Whiskey is often conceptualized as a cold-weather spirit, but adding mint can transform it into a summer-time favorite. Mojitos aren't the only cocktail in which mint is the star of the show. Mint juleps feature just a few simple ingredients (whiskey, mint, and sugar), which allows the freshness of the herb to shine.

We'll let you in on a little bartending secret: You should slap your mint in between your palms before adding it to your drink as a garnish. Doing so releases the fragrant oils in the leaves, so you'll get a lovely waft of mint every time you take a sip. While we urge you to exercise restraint when adding some garnishes, the opposite rings true when it comes to mint, and we recommend you use a generous bunch.


Rosemary is hearty and earthy, so you can use it to add an interesting layer of flavor to drinks that can sometimes use a little spicing (or in this case, herbing) up. Adding the herb to a whiskey sour takes it from a classic stand-by to something a lot more special, and placing a fresh sprig of rosemary on top is the icing on the cocktail cake.

We also love using rosemary in smoked whiskey drinks. The addition results in a beverage that's extremely earthy, rich, and deep. If you see a smoked rosemary old fashioned on a menu, we implore you to order one to see how well these flavors work together. If you want to unleash your inner mixologist and get fancy at home, making a bar-worthy smoked cocktail isn't as hard as you may think, and you'll be sure to impress whoever is lucky enough to indulge in your libation creation.


Berries are another great way to freshen up whiskey. Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all possibilities when it comes to garnishing your glass. The key is to use them on top of cocktails that also incorporate berries into the base of the beverage. Brambles, smashes, and swizzles are perfect examples of whiskey drinks that showcase the delicious flavor of berries.

While berries can certainly work as stand-alone garnishes, using them alongside other tasty and decorative additions will really up your cocktail game. For example, if you're making a sweet, summery bourbon drink that contains both strawberries and lemon juice, then why not finish the drink with both a lemon wedge and a fresh strawberry?

Even though you can find berries year-round in most grocery stores, keeping the seasons in mind and buying berries at their freshest will ensure your berry-laden beverages are as delicious as they can be.


Floating a fresh sage leaf on top of a herbaceous whiskey cocktail is a gorgeous way to garnish a cocktail — and to cue drinkers into the fact that their drink contains a somewhat out-of-the-box flavor. Sage is aromatic and earthy, and its pretty, pale green leaves make it as decorative as it is delicious.

Our favorite way to incorporate sage into a whiskey-based cocktail is to make an infused simple syrup. Just add sage leaves to equal parts sugar and water, bring to the mixture to a boil, and then allow it to simmer for about ten minutes. Remove it from the heat, allow the syrup to cool, then strain the leaves and store in the fridge. It's the perfect thing to have on hand when you want to make a whiskey cocktail that tastes more elevated than your standard at-home cocktail. Our favorite way to garnish a sage-infused cocktail is to simply plop a leaf on top, but if you want to get fancy you can use a cute, tiny clothespin to attach the leaf to the side of your glass.

Edible flowers

Sometimes all you need is a simple lemon wedge, but sometimes a fancy garnish is in order to make your cocktail look and feel extra sophisticated. When you want to pull out all the stops, the best way to make an impact with a fresh garnish is with edible flowers. Admittedly, these garnishes are more about appearance than flavor (after all, does anyone really eat the flowers?), but sometimes a pretty garnish will do the trick.

Even if you plan on leaving the blossoms in your glass, you can still tie the drinking experience together by adding floral notes to your whiskey cocktail with the addition of a floral liqueur like St. Germain. While you can find packaged edible flowers at high-end grocery stores, you might be able to find several options right in your backyard. Violas, marigolds, and pansies are common varieties that can be used on top of a cocktail. Just be sure to check for bees and other crawlers before you drink up!


If the idea of putting a celery stalk in your whiskey drink sounds outlandish, it's probably because you haven't considered using it in the context of a whiskey-based Bloody Mary. A tried and true Bloody Mary is fine and dandy, but using whiskey in its place makes for a richer, more complex breakfast beverage. If you're like us, you'll agree that enjoying the edible garnishes that accompany the ultimate hair-of-the-dog libation is reason enough to order one of these beverages.

If you're one of those people who really loves celery (it tends to be a polarizing vegetable), then you'll be happy to know that you can incorporate hints of the stalk to your beverages in other ways, too. Celery bitters allow you to add a hit of that signature flavor to all kinds of cocktails with just a few drops, so you can extend celery's use beyond the garnish.


Lime wedges aren't just for tequila sodas and gimlets — they also work well on some whiskey cocktails. Our favorite example of a whiskey-based beverage that isn't complete without fresh lime is a Kentucky Mule. Essentially a Moscow Mule made with whiskey (usually bourbon) instead of vodka, it's a simple cocktail that combines the spirit with ginger beer and muddled lime.

You don't even need a full-fledged "cocktail" to enjoy whiskey with lime, as a simple whiskey ginger also benefits from the addition of a lime wedge. Just like with a lemon wedge, we strongly recommend that you taste your beverage before getting too carried away with adding more lime juice. Lime has an even stronger flavor than lemon, so it's easy to go too far with this bright and tangy citrus fruit. Sometimes simple does the trick, and adding a lime to a cocktail shows that care was taken to provide the best drinking experience possible.