Bartender Basics: How to Rim a Glass (Properly)

Animation by Eric DeFreitas

The thought of rimmed glassware can bring to mind happy-hour margaritas pressed into sombrero-style trays, encrusted in a thick escarpment of salt. And while no one wants to infringe on freewheeling margs, if you want the best tasting drink possible, a touch of technique can create a way better rim.

Why do we rim glasses?

We’ve written before about the purpose of garnish, primarily how it lets you to play with the senses in various ways. It allows for distinct aromas to interact with complimentary flavors, melding in the back of your palate.

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Rims can have these same effects. Mix salt directly into a drink, and you’ve got brine. Place it on the rim, and you allow the drink’s flavors to develop in stages. A hit of isolated salt can awaken tongue receptors, which changes what you perceive as the other components of the drink are sipped.

However, if done incorrectly, it’s easy to end up with much of your rim floating in the drink, rather than adhering to the edge. This can negatively impact the flavor of your cocktail.

Types of rims

First, decide what kind of rim you need. Certain recipes call for specific ingredients—salt for a margarita, or sugar for a sidecar. With others, like on a Bloody Mary, you may wish to get creative. Popular rims can include Old Bay seasoning, Tajin, coco nibs or coconut flakes for dessert cocktails.

Sometimes the best option comes from combining salt or sugar bases with other ingredients. If creating a custom blend, try to use half salt/sugar, and half other ingredients that will complement the drink’s liquid ingredients. Cinnamon and sugar make a great combo for drinks with a brown spirit base, and sugar and coco powder can be great on cream-based cocktails. Salt works well mixed with spices like ancho chile, smoked paprika and other savory flavors, and tends to best compliment drinks with a citrus component.

Bartender pouring cocktail into glass with salt rim
A rim allows a cocktail’s flavors to develop in stages / Getty

Making it stick

After you’ve got your sugar or spice selected, the next step is to moisten the rim. For drinks that use citrus as an ingredient, like lemon, lime or orange, you’ll get the most flavor out of using the fruit itself to prepare your rim. Simply cut a wedge, lightly squeeze it to express the juices, and wipe it along the outside of the rim. The idea is to keep the inside of the rim dry, to avoid getting anything inside that could alter the flavor of your drink.

For sugar-based rims, many suggest using simple syrup to moisten the glass. We find this to be overkill. It adds an overpowering amount of extra sweetness and is hell to clean off your glass later. Water tends to work just as well in these cases. Simply moisten a cocktail napkin or paper towel and wipe it along the outside of the rim.

Next, pour some of your salt/sugar mixture into a small plate or bowl. Take your moistened glass, tilt it at a 45-degree angle, and lightly roll the outside of it through the mix. With luck, your ingredients should stick only to the outside of the glass. If any inadvertently gets stuck to the inside, wipe it away with a napkin while holding the glass upside down.

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Pro-tip: The Three-Quarter Rim

For a bit of cocktail bar flair, try to rim the glass only three-quarters of the way around, leaving some untouched space. The theory behind this in bars is that if your guest decides they don’t want the rim, or opts against it after ordering, you give them the option of sipping from the gap on the glass. In home practice, this may not be necessary if you already know what you prefer, but can still look fancy because asymmetrical cocktails are always in style.

Published on September 17, 2021
Topics: Bartender Basics