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When a great cocktail speaks for itself, why garnish?

July 02, 2018

Garnishing: The best way to camouflage a bad drink?

Remember when you were begging your mum for a new toy or a bag of lollies and you’d say “pretty please… with a cherry on top!”  - that cherry was needed for that extra effort – it garnished your plea!

Garnishing food and drinks is as important to the hospitality industry as accessorising an outfit is to fashion. And, as the cocktails are becoming more and more creative, so are the garnishes. 

But why garnish? Some call it the “subingredient’ of a cocktail, some say it creates the initial aroma, which plays on the senses, some say it adds panache and character, and some even say it’s the bartender’s signature on the cocktail…

Then there are those who believe it’s not actually necessary to garnish at all if the cocktail is good enough – controversial!

Like ice, garnish is an understated but important part of cocktail making. You have to strike the right balance - nothing too flamboyant and showy, but nothing too shabby either.

Uberbartools Winter Warmer cocktail garnish

“If you’re willing to put something on there that doesn’t look good, to me that says you don’t care,” Craig Mrusek, bartender and cocktail writer, tells Pittsburgh City Paper.  

Getting the garnish right can make the difference between a mediocre and top-class cocktail experience that the customer will return for.

According to Harriet Leigh, Head of Hospitality at Archie Rose Liquers; “A good garnish should not only change the drink, either in taste or smell, but also make everyone else in the room realise just how cool you are. When looking for a fun new garnish, look beyond the usual citrus suspects.” 

Rule number one – don’t get too clever

Match the garnish to the cocktail and don't take it too far. The Bloody Mary burger garnish is just too much and the classics don’t need to be messed with. A sprig of mint belongs in a Mint Julep, a Manhattan needs a cherry, salt rims and citrus for Margaritas, and an olive in a Martini - use a stainless steel pick to add style.

Salt rims and citrus for Blood Orange Margarita


Rule number two - run of the mill might not cut it

That said, there are some really innovative ways of garnishing - edible flowers, infused salt, vegetables in place of fruit and sweets and candy have all been doing the rounds in the past year.

It's important for bartenders to stay on top of what the competition is doing in this competitive environment. The way you garnish a drink not only adds to the ritual of serving, it also accentuates the experience for the customer.

Uberbartool Snow Pea and Cucumber Cooler garnish

Rule number three – use fresh ingredients

Keep your efforts top notch from beginning to end – from the tools you use (picks, tweezers, zesters etc), right through to the ingredients you make your cocktail with, to the garnish you add as a final touch.

Diageo Bar Academy advises; "Local produce comes with the built-in perception of freshness and quality. So, make connections with your local food wholesalers, markets and greengrocers and emphasise how you want to make a real point of difference for your outlet by being more adventurous."

Uberbartools Peeler for cocktail garnishing

Rule number four – Prep well with practical tools.

Speed and efficiency are always at stake behind the bar, and a customer in a cocktail bar might expect to wait a bit longer than they would in a busy club, but you still need to watch the clock.

“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.” Pez Collier, Bar Manager at Papa Jacks in Brisbane tells The Spirits Business.

Uberbartools tweezers for cocktail garnishing

Have a good set of tweezers, some steel picks, and maybe even a peeler at your fingertips. When time is of the essence, keep things simple but effective – salt rims, sprigs of herbs, olives already on picks, coffee beans and cuts of citrus.

Our durable tools are designed for busy bartenders who take pride in their work, to make the art of garnishing easier. 

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