Garnishes Get A Groovy Makeover At Indian Bars

Once dominated by fresh leaves and dehydrated fruits, bars are now using a variety of garnishes to entice patrons to drink it up.

Published On May 08, 2024 | Updated On May 08, 2024


Have you noticed how cocktail garnishes are suddenly living it up? For a long time, bartenders (and patrons) were seemingly happy with a round of fresh mint leaves or some dehydrated lime or orange slices with cocktails. The last few years, though, have seen a drastic change in cocktail garnishes – so much so that it is now considered an essential part of the cocktail rather than just an add on. 

Heat Of The Moment at Muro, Bengaluru

A few seemingly small changes began the evolution of cocktail garnishes trending up in glasses. These include the rise of mixologists who have realised the value of balancing drinks with a suitable garnish, the rise of sustainability in kitchens that reached the bar through innovative garnishing and the design language of new bars that encourages conversation with the bartender. 

Sahil Essani, winner of World Class India in 2022 and currently heads the bar operations at Muro in Bengaluru, says he has seen garnishes evolve significantly in his own personal journey over the last half decade. “Earlier, I thought they were just an accessory to the drink but I have realised how garnishes can be a massive tool in building an experience for guests,” he says. 

One of the most intriguing garnishes this writer has seen comes from the ‘Muro Musings’ menu with a drink called Heat of the Moment. A take on the Picante, the cocktail contains Reposado tequila, cilantro, lacto guava and Naga chillies with the garnish being tobacco rolled with steel wool that is lit up to imitate the heat of the Naga chillies in the drink. “The entire visual appeal of the drink with the fire coil has made it one of the most popular drinks with people coming in and specifically asking for it after reading or seeing it on the Internet,” Essani says. 

Most people interviewed in this story attested that perhaps the biggest impact on garnishes has come because of Instagram. The social media platform’s popularity means that bartenders are on the lookout for a visually arresting garnish that can make their drink go viral. And with consumers becoming more aware of what is in their glass, the need to explain the ins and out of cocktails is an essential part of a bartender’s job today. This has also led them to experimenting with garnishes knowing that their creations can be relayed to consumers directly. 

“Today, if you are adding a garnish to your glass, you should be able to explain to the guest what you’re adding and why it’s needed in their cocktail. I believe the drink is 70 per cent and the remaining 30 per cent is talking and explaining the cocktail to guests,” Navjot Singh, head bartender at Lair in New Delhi and one of India’s top bars says. On his Instagram profile, a pinned post right on top is all about garnishes. 

Centro Paradiso at Mehico Kolkata

The newfound attention towards garnishes has meant bartenders going out of their way to create experiences that can arrest the attention of consumers. From edible dust to oils to gels among others, nothing is off limits anymore when it comes to adorning the drink. 

For example, at Mehico in Kolkata, head mixologist Manoj Singh Rawat has created Centro Paradiso, a tequila cocktail garnished with cilantro air, discarded tomato skin and chilli salt. The cocktail is a fusion of bold flavours and ingredients with cucumber, cilantro and yuzu puree mixed into the drink and is the highest-selling cocktail from the menu. At Slink and Bardot in Mumbai, head mixologist Santosh Kukreti has played with air on the new Koliwada-inspired menu with a cocktail called Sunset At Slink that contains citrus pink salt air to bring out the taste of the Arabian Sea next door into the mezcal and Aperol drink. 

Sunset At Slink at Slink & Bardot,Mumbai

Beyond these, some cocktails have gone further than most with garnishes that would make anyone sit up and take notice. Case in point being Antz, an agave cocktail available at Thai restaurant Seefah in Mumbai. This cocktail’s champion ingredient is, of course, ants that are used to garnish the drink. 

“The ants come from Bangkok and are oven roasted before being mixed with salt to be used as a garnish. We use it because of the crispy texture that balances the drink, which is our take on a Paloma,” Navneeth Hegde, general manager, Seefah explains. 

B Grade Blockbuster at Cobbler & Crew, Pune

Garnishes will continue to play a starring role in elevating cocktails in the days to come, given their outsized impact in the world of cocktails today. “Bartenders have started making garnishes fancier because that’s the first thing that consumers see and then order. We are seeing more and more innovations with foam, gels and even helium clouds being used as a garnish,” Siddhant Hule, brand ambassador of Himmaleh Spirits that makes Kumaon & I gin and Bandarful coffee liqueur, says. 

Indeed, almost every new cocktail bar will feature at least one signature cocktail that will have a standout garnish with innovations leading the way. Pune's Cobbler & Crew’s latest cocktail menu called ‘Life in the 90s’ features a drink called B Grade Blockbuster. The cocktail comes with a scanner that takes the consumer to a classic song from the 90s. Essani has the last word saying, “Whether its engaging in a story or a sensorial experience, creating visual appeal or even marketing a cocktail, the garnish is as vital anything else.”

Photo: Featured Bars