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With the rise of the G&T and the Old Fash­ioned, it’s no sur­prise that bar­tenders are now pour­ing fewer dou­ble vod­kas and more well-crafted cock­tails. Ar­ti­sanal spir­its have be­come as ubiq­ui­tous and su­perla­tive as ar­ti­sanal bread, mak­ing cocktail hour as in­trigu­ing as any meal­time.

When you get right down to it, to­day’s cock­tails aren’t so dif­fer­ent from dishes on a chef’s tast­ing menu. The creator must train doggedly to hone their craft, each flavour com­po­nent is con­sid­ered and bal­anced, the­atrics and gen­eral pre­sen­ta­tion con­trib­ute to­wards cre­at­ing a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence, and sea­sonal lo­cal pro­duce takes pride of place. Sure, the old clas­sics can still be found on drinks menus around the coun­try and we’d never dream of turn­ing down a piña co­lada on a hot sum­mer’s day – but a new time has ar­rived for SA’s cock­tails, one where bars are craft­ing their own way ahead, which looks and tastes noth­ing like what we re­mem­ber.

“In South Africa we’ve had a resur­gence of the idea of what cock­tails can be,” says Justin "Awe­hwolf" Shaw, bar­tender at Cause | Ef­fect in Cape Town. “And it’s gone back to the old-school style of the cocktail. When cock­tails were first made, they were very dark; they had bit­ters and a lit­tle bit of sugar and were very spirit-for­ward. They were classy and be­spoke.” This was the idea be­hind the cocktail menu at Cause | Ef­fect, and it’s not alone: “Over the past year or so, we’ve seen bars across the coun­try take up the man­tle of cre­at­ing our own trend in South Africa.”

So how did these su­per-sweet and colour­ful drinks, hav­ing been all but put out to pas­ture, earn this re­vival? Look in the mir­ror. “Con­sumers are wiser now about what they’re putting into their bod­ies. They’re more knowl­edge­able about spir­its,” says Justin. He’s right – and we’re hun­gry to learn even more. Cock­tails make for the ideal ve­hi­cle, some­thing which is ev­i­dent in the Cause | Ef­fect menu, where the sci­ence of flavour is ex­plained in un­ex­pected de­tail. Scones, straw­ber­ries and but­ter, it teaches you, have very sim­i­lar flavour com­pounds. You’re pon­der­ing this (and crav­ing scones slathered in but­ter and straw­ber­ries), when you turn the page and, lo and be­hold, there’s a straw­berry scone cocktail.

Or you might order the Avo-nti­tious and let your taste buds dis­cover that the av­o­cado’s vis­cos­ity and high fat con­tent means that it dis­trib­utes the cocktail’s flavours evenly around your mouth and al­lows the taste of the spir­its to linger longer. There’s a sim­i­lar re­ac­tion in the Monarch, wherein stark black drops of burnt but­ter olive oil har­den be­fore melt­ing on your tongue to cre­ate an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. As with all the best cook­ing, it’s nearly magic. And just like on a fine plate of food – where the pota­toes may be roasted in duck fat, but they're darn well go­ing to be the best pota­toes and duck fat the chef could lay their hands on – there’s a sense of ed­u­ca­tion here. “At the end of the day, we are all try­ing to be more con­scious about what we’re putting into our bod­ies – not just as the con­sumer but as the es­tab­lish­ment. We are try­ing to make more peo­ple aware of what they can drink and how it can be ben­e­fi­cial to them,” says Justin. “So it’s just bet­ter spir­its made for bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ences, and you can drink smarter and not harder."

“IN SOUTH AFRICA WE’VE HAD A RESUR­GENCE OF THE IDEA OF WHAT COCK­TAILS CAN BE.”

We’ll drink to that.

THE AVONTITIOUS COCKTAIL AT CAUSE | EF­FECT

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