Cocktail 101: How to Rinse a Glass

Michael Dietsch

After several weeks in the stratosphere, looking at glassware, ice, bitters, and cocktail books, it's time to get grounded again with a little cocktail how-to. This week's topic: preparing a serving glass with a flavor rinse.

The purpose of the rinse is to impart the taste of a strongly flavored ingredient to a cocktail, without that ingredient overpowering the rest of the drink.

The Sazerac is probably the best-known cocktail to feature a rinse, with its traditional wash of absinthe (or pastis, in the decades before absinthe's return to the United States). In the case of the Sazerac, the absinthe provides a hint of anise flavor, which complements the rye whiskey and enhances similar spicy notes in the Peychaud's bitters.

Writing in Esquire magazine, David Wondrich suggests other uses for the cocktail rinse. One of his ideas that I've tried and loved is a rinse of single-malt scotch in a Manhattan cocktail.

But feel free to experiment! Think about flavors that you know work well in a culinary setting, for example, and apply them to your mixing glass. For example, ginger and apple make a classic marriage, in both sweet and savory preparations. Likewise, take some Calvados or applejack, use that as the basis for a Sidecar variation, and then rinse your cocktail glass with a ginger liqueur, such as Canton.

What You Need

  • Rinse ingredient (absinthe, scotch, liqueur, etc.)
  • Glass

What You'll Do

  1. Pour about a quarter ounce of your rinse ingredient into the glass.
  2. Swirl the glass quickly so the rinse splashes around the sides of the glass.
  3. Tip the glass so the rinse reaches the rim of the glass, and then slowly turn it so the rinse coats the interior side of the glass.
  4. Discard excess rinse, either down the sink or down your throat.

More Cocktail 101

Bitters: History and a Comeback »
All About Bitters: Angostura and Peychaud's »
How to Flame an Orange Twist »
Five Essential Cocktail Books »