Raising the bar
Centuries since the publication of the first book on mixing cocktails, the cocktail scene is more vibrant than ever. Michelle Swart explains
AT FINE Brandy Fusion, the annually held allbrandy event on tonight at the Sandton Convention Centre, visitors will get a taste of the novel, the new and the simply out-there trends shaking things up.
The local-is-lekker AmaLekkerlicious, Martell’s Cosmopolitan, the kick-free Sage Grape Smash Mocktail and Klipdrift Gold Julep are just some of the cocktails at the festival’s trendy Fusion Bar.
The local brandy scene is vibrant and in step with global shifts, according to Christelle Reade-Jahn, director of the South African Brandy Foundation, organisers of the event. “Brandies of lighter style and softer palate are making headway, appealing to people traditionally averse to the old-style brandy.
“There’s a new generation eager to explore new taste sensations, ready to explore the many and varied products coming onto the market every year.”
Reade-Jahn takes her pick from other exciting new directions on the global drinks scene. “In the USA, heartland of the cocktail movement, barrel-aged cocktails are the big buzz. This entails that leading bartenders leave batches of cocktails in brandy casks to mellow and develop flavour.”
This trend, originating from Seattle’s vibrant cocktail scene, may be too fussy for the home bartender, yet for high-end bars and cocktail lounges eager to offer their guests unique experiences, this adventurous idea might just see a Sidecar maturing in a brandy barrel at high-end bars and cocktails lounges in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Bitters are making a major come-back, with a slew of new and inventive bitters-based cocktails waking up jaded palates.
Supported by the move towards “wellness” drinks, new-era artisan bitters bring their flavours to cocktails without overloading on kilojoules. Varieties of bitters now sport intriguing flavours from grapefruit and chocolate to beetroot and celery.
The era of culinary cocktails is also in full swing. Much like chefs, bartenders are driven by ingredients stirred, shaken and muddled in contemporary ways. Molecular mixology — and its partner molecular gastronomy — moves away from test tubes and foams to a more fun, light-hearted approach. “It’s not strange to see modern cocktails served in jam jars,” says Chef Nic van Wyk, SA Brandy guild member. “This frugal idea is sparked off by the culinary trend towards using local and seasonal ingredients for handmade drinks. It also echoes the recycling movement.”
Flaming of drinks is a trick moving from the bartending handbook to the home bar. “The resurgence of home parties, popup eateries and supper clubs, feeds this trend as hosts look for new ways to impress their guests.
It is also particularly noticeable how cocktail garnishes break from tradition. The ubiquitous maraschino cherry makes way for orchids, nasturtium, truffled salt and artisan garnishes such as handmade candies, thyme spears and almond-stuffed cherries. Outthere options include candied bacon with brunch cocktails, “droëwors” swivel sticks or freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell.
According to David Strauss, the Cape-based interior designer known for his stylish entertaining, design-conscious home entertainers should note shifts in barware. “Cocktail glasses are shrinking, making fishbowl-sized glasses very passé. Also in big demand is antique stemware, as well as the return of the 1960s punch bowl.” The one thing he will buy? “Without a doubt the Alessi cocktail shaker by designer Sylvia Stave, a modernist tribute to the roaring 1920s.”
Ice, the unsung hero of the mixing game, is fast earning star status in the modern cocktail bar. Revered as the essential chilling tool in cocktails and mixes, ice now comes in all varieties, shapes and sizes. King-sized cubes and giant spherical ice balls are all the rage — not only for its looks. “Large cubes melt slower, without watering down the drink,” says Kurt Schlecter, SA brandy cocktail champion. “Not that diluting a drink is always undesirable. The right amount will ensure a drink that’s not too strong.”
Chef Francois Ferreira, also a member of the prestigious SA Brand Guild, chooses the move back to 1960s style Mad Men inspired cocktail parties as his favourite drinks trend.
“Crudités and creamy dips are back, so are stuffed mushrooms, devilled eggs, devils on horseback, prawn cocktails and mini-cheeseburgers. This is served alongside retro-flavoured libations like the Side Car, old-school Horse’s Neck and fruit punches.”
Reflecting global drinks trends, the South African cocktail AmaLekkerlicious will shine at Fine Brandy Fusion.