April 26, 2018


Citrus zest for cocktails

Why do you add citrus twists to cocktails?

Well, it really is not the peel that is so important (although it does look nice), but rather the aromatic oils that can be squeezed out and expressed on the top of your cocktail to give it a delicious citrusy punch.

If you have been making cocktails at home without citrus peels squeezed over the top, then prepare to take your bartending game to the next level in 5 minutes.

The technique is really simple.

Use a vegetable peeler to cut a piece of peel about 1 inch thick doing your best to not get too much of the white pith on the back of the peel. The hold the peel skin side down over your finished drink between your thumbs and index fingers and squeeze to bring the edges together to release the oils.

It might not looked like it worked, but if done correctly you should smell and taste the bright citrus with your first sip.

Storing and choosing your citrus

Always store your citrus in the fridge when you are not using it. You can leave it in a bowl for the evening when you need it but be sure to put it back.

After you take off the first piece of peel from a fruit try to use it up within a day or two before it gets too dried out. Old or dried citrus does not express much oil so things start to go downhill in about a day or two.

Be sure not to waste though! If the peel become to dry to use you can still juice the fruit to make another cocktail, or just drink some juice.

When you are looking for citrus for your cocktails there are a few things to look for….

  1. Fruit that feels heavy for its’ size. This usually is the fruit that has the most flavor so it will be great for juicing as well as the peels.
  2. Citrus that has peels that seem more smooth and not super bumpy. Smooth pieces of zest express the oils nicely without breaking so you can drop the in for garnishes that look nice.
  3. Organic if your supermarket has it and it does not cost 10x as much as the other options.

After you have picked out your citrus be sure to give it a quick scrub under some cold water.

Most citrus farms use pesticides and it is nice to try to minimize the amount you could get in your drink. Also, many supermarkets have wax on the fruit to make them look more appealing and you probably don’t want to drink any of that either.

Some details of citrus peel garnishes

When you take a piece of citrus peel, try to keep it a similar length to the others you use.

The amount of oil that is added to the drink is dependent on how big the piece of peel is so keep it the same.

Typically, about 2 1/2 to 3 inches long by about in inch wide is a good place to be. This doesn’t matter so much if you are not a bartender at a fancy restaurant, but it is nice be able to make drinks exactly the same way once you find the way you like them.

Glass size:

The smaller the opening of your glass the less oil you will get. The citrus oil has a way a spraying in all directions so in order to get more oil in the glass you can squeeze the peel really close to it.


Lemon oil in particular can sometimes overpower delicate flavors so you might not always want a big blast of the citrus oil. To get a more subtle citrus flavor squeeze the peel 5 or 6 inches above the drink so less of it ends up in your cocktail.

For instance, it is nice to have a Sazerac with a hint of lemon oil instead of an overpowering amount, so hold the peel higher when squeezing out the oils.

I realize these details are pretty nit picky but it is fun (and rewarding) to practice good technique at your home bar, plus it is not hard at all.

Now go add some citrus flavors to your cocktails, experiments, or even a glass of water.


USE THIS TECHNIQUE IN: Manhattan, Corpse Reviver, Negroni, Peony, and More


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