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

Business Day - Home Front - - HOMEFRONT -

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.

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