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How important are garnishes in cocktails?

Our cocktail experts discuss whether adding garnish to a drink is a case of style over substance, or an important flourish providing added value.

Are garnishes a necessary part of cocktail-making, or do they detract from quality liquid?

Over the years, cocktail garnishes have become increasingly extravagant, demonstrating a bartender’s creative skill and adding a touch of theatre to the cocktail-making experience.

However, some bartenders prefer to focus on the balance and quality of the drink itself, opting for simple, or even pre-bottled serves. Some go further to claim that extravagant garnished can detract from the quality of the drink itself.

Others believe that garnishes are important to offer customers something they would not be able to make at home, injecting excitement and innovation into their bar experience.

Opinion is divided in the industry, and the question remains, how important are garnishes in cocktails?

We put two noted bartenders – Pez Collier, bar manager at Brisbane’s Papa Jacks and Rusty Cerven, senior mixologist at London’s The Connaught Hotel – head to head in the debate.

Which of our judges do you agree with? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Pez Collier – bar manager, Papa Jacks, Brisbane


“Bartenders need to take pride in their work and ensure the drink tastes and looks great”

As patrons are delving more and more into drinking experiences that captivate all of the senses, the garnish forms an integral part of the drinking experience. Firstly, the garnish adds a huge aesthetic element to the drink.

Secondly garnishes are used as flavour enhancing elements, whether it’s by adding flavour directly, or through the use of aromatic components of the garnish itself, such as citrus oils, aromatic herbs etc.

I prefer elaborate and extravagant garnishes as I think they are a lot of fun and add a lot to the drinking experience but obviously, they have to be within reason. While some drinks call for extravagant garnishing, others call for more subtlety. It’s about picking the right drinks to garnish elaborately depending on the bar environment and style of drink.

Extravagant garnishes raise the perceived value of the drink and enhance the overall drinking experience, while also having a practical element through adding flavour or aroma.

Evidently, extravagant things take time, but it all depends on the style of bar, style of service and expectations of the clientele. Some bartenders argue it takes too long to create something extravagant, but it doesn’t have to and I definitely think it’s worth it to make something that looks incredible.

For instance, of course you don’t want to wait 10 minutes for an elaborately garnished simple drink in a fast-paced pub or nightclub. However, if you are in a venue that takes pride in offering elaborate garnishes and presentations – for example a style bar or a tiki bar – then you expect that the drink may take a couple of minutes longer but the aesthetic benefits of an elaborate garnish will definitely be worth it. Many bars save time on garnishing by having pre-prepared garnishes, or pre-prepared elements to their garnishes. Customers are definitely looking for a perceived value of their experience and many people are willing to pay to have the highest quality experience possible.

I think bartenders need to take pride in their work and ensure that the drink not only tastes great, but also looks great.

Rusty Cerven – senior mixologist, The Connaught Hotel, London


”I like to focus more on the exact taste, balance and quality of the drink itself”

Although I do sometimes really enjoy the more extravagant presentations, I think a lot of people don’t understand it.

I see quite a lot of people just trying to replicate extravagant garnishing they’ve seen elsewhere, but they either don’t do it very well or they overdo it completely.

Personally, I like to focus more on the exact taste, balance and quality of the drink itself, rather than spending too much time on the garnish. Of course the garnish is extremely important, but should never become more important than the drink itself. That’s why I like to keep it simple.

Garnish is something that gives you a feeling about the drink even before your first taste of it, much like when you order food; if you have nicely designed food on your plate, you enjoy it much more because your eyes can eat it first.

And it’s the same with a nice presentation of a drink; if what your eyes see first is good, you enjoy it even more.

When you see a beautiful garnish on a drink that’s been ordered on the next table, you might think, “Oh, that looks beautiful,” and it becomes interesting, you want to know more about it. You wouldn’t have the same interest with a normal drink served without garnish; it would just be a glass with any old potion inside.

The garnish needs to make sense and be a part of the drink as well as it’s a reflection of the ingredients in the drink.

I like using some food or something to express the ingredients and what flavours are in the drink. But if you put a small toy car with a drink, it doesn’t mean anything.

Dried fruit is wonderful as a garnish. I often use citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, simple things like that and it’s not wasteful as they last for ages.

I have seen bartenders before spend more time perfecting some elaborate garnish than they do mixing the drink – you need to consider how long it’s going to take and you can’t keep the customer waiting. Garnish should be beautiful and really simple – it will bring a completely different feeling to the drink.

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