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Cocktails and Balancing Flavours

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

Why Balancing Flavours Matters

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 maximise the impact, 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 - about the art of balancing flavours, and the benefits of understanding pairing the correct cocktail tastes to amplify flavours and create exceptional dining occasions.

Understanding Flavours and the 4 Pillars of Pairing

When creating a cocktail recipe, balancing flavours is key. When we understand the different categories of flavour 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- by- guesswork method.

1. Bitter Sweet

2. Sweet & Sour

3. Salt & Sweet

4. Umami & everything

“I always encourage people to take these basic flavour 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 Flavours in Cocktails


When flavours are enhanced, they are made more prominent or boosted.

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 best cocktails for me, are well balanced with acidity, bitterness and sweetness, but you also want to provide layers of flavour behind these tastes."

Using Garnishes to Enhance Flavour

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. Garnishes are also a great way of:

  1. Personalising classic recipes
  2. Adding a seasonal twist to a menu.

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

Diageo Bar Academy | Parsley leaf on a wooden chopping board that can be used in cocktails as well as food.

Two Top Tips on Simple Garnish

Parsley leaf

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

Blackcurrant leaf

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

Diageo Bar Academy | Tomatoes that are used in a tomato based cocktail

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.

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

1. Mirror the flavours in both

2. Finding the missing flavour piece

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 Chilli Corn

FLAVOURS: 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

FLAVOURS: 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 flavours, 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 underutilised by bartenders, like extractions and infusions, for example.
  4. As a bartender, develop a language of flavour — This enables you to discuss food and cocktails in the same way, connecting both offerings in the guests’ mind and your own.
  5. Be passionate about flavour! — it’s the greatest sales tool we have in this industry!

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