How to Rim a Glass for Cocktails

Dress Up Your Drinks and Add Flavor

  • 01 of 05

    Rimming Is a Great Addition to Cocktails

    rimming cocktails
    Leah Maroney

    Rimming a glass is an easy way to spruce up and add flavor to your cocktails. For instance, margaritas commonly get a salt or sugar rim and a drink like the salty dog would not be salty without the rim.

    A number of other drinks, from sweet martinis to savory highballs, can be enhanced with this simple bartending technique as well. While plain salt or sugar can be added to almost any drink, you can also have fun with unique additions. Imagine a pumpkin martini with nutmeg and cinnamon sugar or a piña colada with a coconut flake rim. The possibilities are only limited by your creativity!

    The Basic Steps in Rimming

    We'll dive deeper into the details and give you plenty of tips and tricks, but there are four basic steps to rimming a glass:

    1. Wet the rim with a liquid such as citrus juice.
    2. Dip or roll the rim in a tray filled with sugar or salt.
    3. Shake off any excess.
    4. Allow the rim to dry before pouring a drink.

    What You Need

    You want to work quickly while rimming. To ensure the best results, prepare your glasses and all of the tools and ingredients you need before starting:

    • Clean glassware
    • Lemon, lime, or another rim-wetting agent
    • Small, flat plates, saucers, or bowls (larger diameter than your glass)
    • Rimming ingredient (sugar, salt, etc.)

    Once you have gathered your supplies, you can quickly rim an entire set of glasses. Don't worry about making the actual cocktail until after your glasses are prepared. You can even rim hours in advance if needed.

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  • 02 of 05

    Choosing the Sugar and Salt

    rimming cocktails
    Leah Maroney

    Some salts and sugars work better than others when rimming a glass. Which you choose is going to depend on your drink and personal preference.

    Kitchen Salts

    Kosher salt works best, just be sure it is not too coarse. Iodized salt is not very good and sea salt can be too briny.

    Specialty Salts 

    For the right drink, some of the specialty salts (e.g., smoked, pink, gray, etc.) can work really well. Try adding a smoked salt rim (or a mix of smoked and kosher salts) to your next bloody Mary.

    Margarita Salt

    Many companies produce "margarita salt" which is designed specifically for rimming glasses. This is often a large-grain salt that is packaged in convenient rimming trays. They are also available in a variety of flavors and colors, like Rokz Colored Margarita Salts.

    Granulated Sugar

    That same sugar you use to make simple syrup can be used to rim a glass. It works well, is inexpensive, and you probably already have it. For the best results, transform it into superfine sugar.

    Specialty Sugars

    Just like simple syrup, you can use your favorite specialty sugar for rimming. Turbinado, demerara, powdered, and brown sugars are all good options.

    Cocktail Sugars

    You do not have to look hard to find sugars that are sold specifically for rimming cocktails. Available in a variety of colors and flavors, like Rokz Cocktail Sugars, these add a fun flair to drinks.

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  • 03 of 05

    Wetting the Rim

    rimming cocktails
    Leah Maroney

    The first step to rimming a glass is to choose the appropriate liquid to moisten the rim because sugar and salt will not stick to dry glass.

    Fresh Citrus Fruit

    The most common technique for wetting the rim is to run a fresh lemon or lime wedge around the outside of the glass. This is a good choice for the majority of cocktails, particularly any that include fruit.

    1. Cut a lemon or lime wedge.
    2. Hold the glass upside down and run the fruit's pulp along the outside of the rim until it is covered with juice.
    3. Keep the glass upside down so the juices don't run down the sides and proceed to the next step to apply the rimming ingredient.

    You can use any piece of cut fruit (e.g., peach, pineapple, etc.) in the same manner.

    Liqueurs, Syrups and Other Rimming Options

    Citrus is not the ideal wetting agent for every cocktail. Sure, you can use water, but rimming goes beyond presentation and is designed to add to the drink's flavor experience as well. Water adds nothing other than a medium to get the salt or sugar to stick.

    The next best thing is to turn to your drink's ingredients for an appropriate base. For instance, if you want to rim a chocolate martini with cocoa and sugar, use that same chocolate liqueur you're pouring into the shaker. Likewise, for this talking monkey recipe, you could use either the banana or coffee liqueurs.

    Choose any liquid ingredient that will complement your drink; syrups or juices, even soda, wine, or beer will work. 

    1. Pour about 2 tablespoons of your liquid of choice into a small saucer that is big enough to fit your glass.
    2. Holding the glass upside down, dip the rim into the liquid so it is evenly covered.
    3. Pull the glass out of the liquid and allow any excess to drip off before proceeding to the next step and applying the sugar or salt. Remember to keep your glass upside down so the liquids don't drip down the side.

    A Rimming Dish

    You have probably noticed rimming stations set up in bars that serve a lot of margaritas. This is often a three-tiered, round dish that unfolds to reveal a rimming sponge and two compartments that hold salt or sugar. 

    Though not necessary, a bar glass rimmer is a great device that can make rimming a glass very easy and quick. If you enjoy salt-rimmed glasses often, it's a worthy (and cheap) investment and it folds up for easy storage.

    1. Press the rim of your glass into the sponge that has been saturated with citrus juice.
    2. Dip the wet rim into either the salt or sugar and shake off any excess into the sink or wastebasket.
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  • 04 of 05

    Rimming the Glass

    rimming cocktails
    Leah Maroney

    With a wet rim, it's time to add the sugar, salt, or whatever you like and create the perfectly rimmed glass for your cocktails. There are two basic methods—dipping and rolling—to apply the rimming ingredient, and each has benefits.

    Tip: Remember to add moisture to the rim immediately before dipping it into the sugar or salt. 

    Dipping the Rim

    Dipping the wet rim is the most common method, though it's not necessarily always the best. It is, however, extremely easy and works best when using a rimmer dish.

    1. Fill a saucer with enough salt or sugar to coat the entire rim of the glass.
    2. Still holding the glass upside down, dip the wet rim into the dry ingredient.
    3. Pressing the glass down gently, twist it around until it is evenly coated.
    4. Shake off any excess salt or sugar over a sink or wastebasket.
    5. Set the glass upright and allow it to dry.

    Tip: When you pour your cocktail, be sure to do so slowly so the liquid doesn't splash up the sides of the glass and ruin your rim. Some liquid-dry ingredient combinations cause messy reactions, too. For instance, if beer hits salt when making a michelada, the foam will form very quickly and get out of control.

    Rolling the Rim

    Dipping is good, but the problem is that your salt and sugar may stick on both the inside and the outside of the glass. Many drinkers do not enjoy this because those sugar or salt crystals on the inside can drop into the glass and alter the balance of the drink.

    To prevent this problem and keep the dry ingredient on the outside of the glass, roll the glass instead of dipping it. This method is just as easy and will give you greater control. With practice, your rims will look very neat and professional.

    1. Fill a saucer or shallow bowl with a pile of salt or sugar.
    2. Hold the wet-rimmed glass at about a 45-degree angle to the saucer.
    3. Dab the rim into the salt or sugar while slowly turning the glass so that only the outer edge is covered.
    4. Shake off any excess salt or sugar over a sink or wastebasket.
    5. Set the glass upright and allow the rim to dry before pouring your cocktail.

    Tip: With either of these methods, you can customize the amount of sugar or salt that is on your rim. Some bartenders prefer a light coating while others prefer to get it nice and thick. Experiment for yourself to discover what you like best.

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  • 05 of 05

    Customizing the Rim

    rimming cocktails
    Leah Maroney

    Once you get the hang of rimming, you can play around with the dry ingredients and rim a glass with almost anything. This is where the real fun begins because you can create custom rimming ingredients that set your drink off in real style.

    Rim Just Half the Glass

    You don't have to rim the entire glass, simply stop halfway while rolling and serve the drink with half a rim. This option has an interesting look and it serves a purpose:

    • Some drinkers dislike anything on the rim of their glass. You can cater to their taste by leaving half of the glass bare so they can drink from that side.
    • If you're experimenting with your rimming ingredients, there's no need to commit to a full rim that might (or might not) work well with the drink.

    Make Your Own Colored Sugar

    You can buy colored sugar designed specifically for cocktails or use colored sugars from the baking aisle of your local market. However, there's a simple way to do it at home and it can save money. It's easy but there are a few tricks and a little time involved.

    1. In a small bowl, place at least 1/8 cup granulated sugar.
    2. Add five drops (or more to intensify the color or when using more sugar) of food coloring.
    3. Use a fork to mix the coloring into the sugar until it's uniform (about 1 to 2 minutes).
    4. Lay the sugar out on wax paper and break up any large clumps. Allow it to dry overnight.
    5. Run the sugar through a sieve, fine mesh strainer, or sifter to remove any chunks (you can also crush it with a muddler). The sugar should now be colored and back to the original texture.

    Tip: Liquid food coloring will solidify more than gel food coloring and requires more effort to break up into granules. Also, if you need a specific color (for king cake shots, for instance), you'll get the most vibrant look if you avoid mixing food coloring. For example, use purple gel food coloring rather than mixing red and blue liquid food coloring.

    Add a Hint of Spice

    Some cocktails could do very well with complementary spices or herbs. This is also an easy trick: Add one or more of these spices to your plate of sugar or salt and stir with a fork until it's thoroughly mixed.

    Skip the Sugars and Salts

    You don't even need a sugar or salt base. Instead, allow one of these ingredients to stand on their own:

    • Coconut flakes can complement a variety of drinks, including the candy appley recipe. To get them to stick, use something sugary like syrup or liqueur.
    • Powdered chocolate is a fun addition to sweet drinks like the chocolate margarita.
    • Crush graham crackers or cookies as fine as you like and rim the glass of dessert cocktails like the ghost-tini or grasshopper.
    • Crushed candy can also be used, but will require a bit of experimentation. You want to try and dry it if the candy's moist inside (e.g., candy corn). You will also need to use a coffee grinder or food processor to refine it into really fine crystals. Hard candy like candy canes, or the strawberry candy used in the floating on cloud 9 recipe, tend to work best.

    Find Inspiration in Rimmed Cocktails

    Many drink recipes already have creative rims. Browse through these cocktails and notice how the rim is used to enhance and complement the drink. Use them as inspiration to fuel your own rimming experiments.