Imagine you’re on a date at a cute, intimate cocktail bar. You’re dressed up, flirting, the chemistry is flowing, when suddenly your date picks up their cocktail and licks the entire side of the glass. From the way some cocktails are being garnished, you could hardly blame them for assuming this is what is expected. Cocktail rims, once an apt name for a garnish confined to the lip of a glass, have slowly become more abstract and outlandish, oozing over the sides and sometimes bottoms of glasses. Sure, it’s eye-catching, but who the hell is it for?
I’ll admit I’ve never been much of a fan of rims to begin with, whether they’re salt, sugar or Pop Rocks, but I understand that they can serve a function. “There’s either a flavor quality or an aromatic quality that’s going to bring something to the drink, to enhance it in some way,” says Sother Teague, beverage director at Overthrow Hospitality. Like a lemon or orange peel expressed over the surface of a cocktail, the rim mostly serves to boost the flavor and texture of the cocktail. Its aesthetic quality is secondary, or at most equal, to its function.
But with this new generation of rims, the eyes drink first. And while they do require technical skill to pull off—seriously, how do you get it to look like black salt flames are shooting up from the bottom of the glass?—they are rarely about enhancing the taste of the drink. “It’s a design trend,” says Teague. “This, I believe, is an unfortunate side effect of the Instagram world that we live in, or TikTok. ... This is not practical. It’s not functional.” In other words, it looks nice, but it doesn’t exist to be in service of the drink.
There are plenty of outlandish garnish trends in the cocktail world, from whole burgers on Bloody Marys to Micheladas topped with candy. But there, at least, it’s clear how the toppings should be eaten. The side-dipped rim, in contrast, is kind of confusing. How, exactly, is one supposed to drink something like this? Do you lick it, and risk spilling some of your drink onto your lap in the process to reach the entire rim? Do you run your fingers up the sides and then lick them? Do you ask for a spoon to scrape it off so you can stir it into the drink? There’s no elegant solution.
But, like any trend, it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. Having your eyes drink first, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Who hasn’t ordered a cocktail just because it comes in a cool glass, or is set on fire, or has some other aesthetic quality that made you say “yes” before even considering if you’d like the way it tastes? Seeing a beautiful cocktail across the bar, with a colorful rim dripping down the side, may inspire you to order something you never would have otherwise. And that’s not a bad thing. To save everyone the embarrassment, maybe we can all agree that you don’t need to lick the whole thing—you can just appreciate how it looks.