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Cocktails and Balancing Flavors

Mark Moriarty, Diageo’s Global Gastronomer, shares his insights on the best ways to balance flavor in cocktails and how to pair food with drinks

When learning how to balance flavors across drinks and developing your palate, it’s not about creating food, making new cocktails, or trial and error. The best way to develop your flavor skills is to discover other venues that are ahead of the curve when it comes to amazing food and drinks. Why take time experimenting when there’s a world of experience available? Checking out the best bars and restaurants is entertaining and educational and will help you to get an understanding of how flavors work together.

A beautiful meal, perfectly paired with an expertly crafted drink can do wonders for improving a customer’s experience of your bar or restaurant. There’s such an opportunity here to maximize the impact and increase the spend per head of your guests and the venue’s bottom line.

But, what's the best way to do this? We asked Diageo's Global Gastronomer, Mark Moriarty, - listed on Forbes' '30 Under 30' for Innovation in the Arts Sector and previously awarded San Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year (2015), - about the art of balancing flavors, and the benefits of understanding pairing the correct cocktail tastes to amplify flavors and create exceptional dining occasions.

“My role as Diageo’s Global Gastronomer is the first of its kind in the industry. It tasks me with exploring food and gastronomy culture, looking at the culinary occasion(s) to help forge a more meaningful connection between food and spirits”. Mark explains.

Understanding Flavors and the 4 Pillars of Pairing

When creating a cocktail recipe, balancing flavors is key. When we understand the different categories of flavor and how they work together or how they enhance one another, we can create a delicious and well-balanced cocktail much more quickly than the old trial- and- error- guesswork method.

1. Bitter Sweet

2. Sweet & Sour

3. Salt & Sweet

4. Umami & everything

“I always encourage people to take these basic flavor pillars and look at the ingredients you have access to. What are the most hyperlocal and experimental ingredients you can add that balance the drink, but also bring originality and individuality to the cocktail? Adding that something extra will set your drinks apart from the rest.”

The Art of Balancing Flavors in Cocktails

How do you Create Flavor? Taste and Aroma!

When flavors are enhanced, they are made more prominent or boosted. Imagine a perfectly balanced margarita with a salt rim - that little pinch amplifies the flavors of the drink, making them more pronounced and more delicious!

Mark tells us "When making cocktails, from a taste-making perspective, if the balance isn't there, or the sugar control, you can't really taste much. The use of salt or saline is the most important thing when it comes to making cocktails, as it actually helps to bring out the natural flavors as opposed to just 'sweetness'. The best cocktails for me, are well balanced with acidity, bitterness and sweetness, but you also want to provide layers of flavor behind these tastes."

Using Garnishes to Enhance Flavor

Garnishes can raise a serve and transform a drink. Eye-catching serves will encourage customers to share their experiences with friends and followers on social media platforms like Instagram. Ultimately, this is a free marketing tool that promotes the cocktail, the bartender and the venue to wider audiences. Garnishes are also a great way of personalizing classic recipes or adding a seasonal twist to a menu.

Mark enthuses “I like contrasting garnishes to the flavors, it is easy to produce a cocktail that is full of citrus juice and then add a slice of citrus. But the most thought-provoking cocktails have a surprise element. Having a stand-out moment will have customers coming back and garnishes are a simple way of creating this.”

Two Top Tips on Simple Garnish

Parsley leaf

This is the closest flavor profile to a banana. When you are creating cocktails with ingredients that work alongside the banana flavor, you’ll be surprised to see how parsley leaf complements the flavor so well.

Blackcurrant leaf

When creating a Tequila-based drink, pair it with Jalapeno Juice and Blackcurrant leaf - a surprising mouthful of flavor!

The Two Best Ways to Match Food and Drinks

In order to up your drinks pairing game, bartenders should reach out to chefs as there are lots of techniques used in the kitchen that can be used by bartenders, like extractions and infusions. A classic example would be blending tomatoes with salt and sugar. Let them drip overnight and you get a very clear liquid that tastes intense - drying out the natural sugars. Techniques like this are a great way for bartenders to start out using food-focused techniques.

Mark shares the two best ways to match food alongside cocktails:

1. Mirror the flavors in both

Mirroring the flavors in both the food and drink will give you a cohesive version of the same flavors on your plate and in the liquid

2. Finding the missing piece

For example, a chef may create a dish that's missing one of the key pillars, let’s say, acidity. The chef may then ask the bartender to produce a cocktail to go alongside the dish that brings the acidity, and, in turn, completes the dish and fills that missing piece of the puzzle.

Mark Moriarity’s Top Cocktail Do’s and Don’ts

Food & Cocktail Pairing Recipes

DRINK: Bulleit and Apple Spritz

GARNISH: Smoked Herbs

DISH: Southern Fried Chicken Tender with Fennel and Apple Slaw and Charred Chili Corn

FLAVORS: Sweet, Sour, Smoke, Spice, Anise

DRINK: Ketel One and Pineapple Fizz

GARNISH: Rosemary Sprig & Slice of Lime

DISH: Spiced Tomato and Halloumi Salad with Green Herbs

FLAVORS: Sweet, Spice, Salt, Sour


  1. Get creative with your ingredients — creating unique, but tasteful cocktails can add value to your guests’ experience and increase the likelihood of return
  2. When learning how to balance flavors, go out to restaurants that are at the top of their game. This will help you develop your palate and gives you a good reference point of what works and why.
  3. Reach out to chefs, as there are a lot of techniques used in the kitchen that are often underutilized by bartenders, like extractions and infusions, for example.
  4. As a bartender, develop a language of flavor — This enables you to discuss food and cocktails in the same way, connecting both offerings in the guests’ minds and your own.
  5. Be passionate about flavor! — it’s the greatest sales tool we have in this industry!