The Home Bartender: Garnishes

It’s The Home Bartender time! This monthly feature caters to those of you who are not necessarily working bartenders but who are really interested in drinking better cocktails and learning how to make cocktails! Each month our Home Bartender expert, Matej Novak, will run you through a new topic. This month he discusses the cherry on top (of the cocktail): GARNISHES!


Listen (or, you know, read), you’re not going to save a bad drink with a great garnish. If your proportions aren’t right, if you haven’t used good ingredients, that drink isn’t going to work no matter what. Of course, if you have made a drink carefully, with your guest’s preferences in mind, you could blow the whole thing if you don’t finish it right. That’s why garnishes are important: the way they look, they way they taste and the ways they can alter a drink.

You can watch my video to get in depth with garnish ingredients and technique, but here are a few tips:

  1. Less = more: Don’t overdo it. You want the smell or taste of the garnish to be a component of your drink, not the whole story.
  2. Make a match: This is as much about the look of your garnish as it is about the flavour. Is your drink elegant and delicate? Or rustic and robust? The overall presentation should be a clue as to the character of the drink.
  3. See #1: Seriously, don’t overdo it. Make your drink look good, but don’t make it so intricate or fussy it makes it hard to actually drink.

There are drinks served without a garnish, like the Sazerac or Red Hook. There are garnishes that just go with certain drinks, like orange zest on a Negroni. Otherwise, this is a great place to experiment. Try your drink with and without a garnish to see how it changes the profile. Try different garnishes on the same drink. Think about the flavours of the ingredients you’re using and then enhance or complement them. Fruit, edible flowers, herbs, spices — they’re all fair game. Get creative and make your drink look as good as it tastes.

The Home Bartender: Garnishes | Bartender Atlas

Matej Novak
Matej is a writer and cocktail enthusiast living in Kingston, Ontario. He’s annoyed bartenders with endless questions in cities including Toronto, New York, San Francisco, Portland, Prague, London and Tokyo. He’s also amassed more cocktail tools and accoutrements than with which he knows what to do (told you he’s a writer). Don’t be like Matej. Learn from his mistakes — and his successes — instead.
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