Get Back To Loving Classic Cocktails, With A Twist

Words: Crush

Stylish South Africans are enjoying classic cocktails more than ever before, but in the 2020s, they are focusing on environmentally sustainable, top-quality ingredients and paying close attention to the craft behind the drinks they consume.

This is according to ace bartender George Hunter, rated among SA’s top bartenders and winner of multiple awards including the 2018 global Absolut Invite competition, the Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge 2018 (Local winner) and Beefeater MXLDN Cocktail Competition 2017 (Local winner).

Hunter is also the co-owner of Anvil Ice and Copper Monkey bar equipment and boutique liquor importers, and Bar Manager for Saint Restaurant and Marble Restaurant. Hunter has delighted international audiences with his creative South African-themed cocktails featuring ingredients such as spekboom, buchu and local fynbos.

George Hunter

South Africans Know What They Prefer More Than Ever

Hunter says South Africans aged 20 to 40 are now taking a refreshing approach to enjoying their classic cocktails. “Modern audiences are very well informed and interested in the cocktail ingredients and how each cocktail is prepared,” he says.

“They are also very focused on environmental responsibility, and are actually demanding that bars do away with straws.” This is good news to Hunter, who believes straws not only caused irreparable environmental damage, but they also ruin the experience of drinking a carefully presented cocktail. “You might have topped it with a subtly flavoured foam, for example, and if you stick a straw through that, the impact is ruined.”

Consumers Are Still Choosing Classic Cocktails, But With A Twist

Hunter says local and international cocktail trends are taking inspiration from the Golden Age of cocktails – an era in the United States from the early 1800s through to Prohibition, when bartending was a highly respected profession and cocktails were the ultimate elegant refreshment for men and women alike.

“We’re entering the second Golden Age now. People are becoming quite interested in cocktail history and seeking out the American classics. It’s a good time to be a bartender,” he says.

But unlike a century ago, bartenders now have access to a far wider range of top quality fresh ingredients, which they are using to give the classics a fresh new twist, says Hunter.

classic cocktail American Spirits

International Tastes Take Over Classic Cocktails

Showcasing the 2020 approach to cocktails at an event hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in Johannesburg, Hunter expertly blended South African ingredients with top quality American distilled spirits for refreshing takes on two classics. His take on a classic French 75 paired American gin with citrus, buchu syrup and Prosecco for a light, refreshing drink to pair with fresh salad. Hunter’s take on the classic bourbon-based Old Fashioned was the perfect balance for a traditional South African malva pudding.

“South Africans might be slightly behind international trends, but we’re seeing a swing to international tastes, and growing local interest in American distilled spirits here,” says Hunter. “In particular, local bartenders love to use American Bourbon and local audiences love bourbon-based Old Fashions.”

Internationally, bartenders are predicting the return of simpler, classic cocktails with a focus on top-quality ingredients instead of gimmicky glassware and garnishes; a revisiting of vintage classic cocktails; the emergence of more salt and umami flavours; and a reduction in the amount of sugar used in cocktails this year.

Local and exotic fresh herbs and produce with new treatments are in, as bartenders experiment with new fusions and flavour and colour extractions from fruit, vegetables and flowers. Also making their way into the cocktail scene this year are teas, lighter coloured spirits like gin and vodka, and refreshing carbonated drinks.

Whiskey and Bourbon, Top Exports into SA Market

The U.S., long renowned for its bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and American rye whiskey, it is now a major global supplier of a wide range of premier distilled spirits for the global cocktail market, and is starting to make inroads into the South African market too.

U.S. distilled spirits exports have topped the $1.7 billion mark, with whiskey and bourbon accounting for the bulk of exports, but other distilled spirits such as gin, rum, and vodka are growing fast. With an emerging and innovative craft distilling industry, the U.S. now has as many as 2,000 U.S. small-batch distillers innovating in this space, alongside the country’s established internationally recognised brands.

classic cocktail

American Spirits Are Showcased In Johannesburg

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States showcased a range of fine American spirits, paired with traditional South African foods, at a tasting at the trendy Milk Bar African eatery in Johannesburg this month. Among the American distilled spirits guests sampled at the event were:

  • Maker’s Mark small-batch bourbon whiskey produced in Kentucky by Beam Suntory. This smooth, subtle bourbon features a woody oak, caramel and vanilla aroma and sweet, balanced taste.
  • Golden Moon Gin, produced by Colorado-based Golden Moon, the American Distilling Institute’s Distillery of the Year 2019. This contemporary gin begins with a bright brush of French lavender, with a fresh herbal palate of cool and sweet mint.
  • Gunfighter American Rye Whiskey, matured in new American oak casks before being finished in French oak American fortified wine casks, for a nose of spiced fruit punch and cookie dough and palate of pepper, marmalade and raisins.
  • Koval Dry Gin, produced by Chicago’s award-winning Koval distillery, is distilled with a unique variety of woodland spices, juniper and wildflowers envelop the nose, while the taste is dry, yet vibrant.
  • Whistling Andy Whiskey, distilled in Bigfork, Colorado, delivers a sweet fruity nose leading into warm spiciness mid-palate and finishes smooth with accents of toasted caramel and well-rounded oak flavours.
  • Sagamore Spirit Double Oak Rye Whiskey, an award-winning spirit aged for four years before being placed in a second oak barrel to re-energise the ageing process, creating flavours full of caramel and dark vanilla and colours that radiate amber and warm chestnut.
  • Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, featuring a bold and spicy upfront taste that mellows with sweet caramel and maple.
  • Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey, a super premium double-mellowed whiskey from the Jack Daniel Distillery. Incredibly smooth, Gentleman Jack has mellow aromas of sweet vanilla and brown sugar, with flavours of vanilla, maple syrup and citrus, and a silky, warm finish.

Cocktail Recipes, created by award-winning SA bartender, George Hunter

Full Moon

Glass: Champagne flute
Method: Shake & Top off

25 ml Gin
25 ml Lemon
25 ml Buchu Syrup

Ice: Cubed to shake
Garnish: Lemon Zest & Flower

Ouma’s Old Fashion

Glass: Rocks Glass
Method: Stirred

37,5 ml Bourbon
10 ml Ouma Rusk Syrup
4 dashes Infused Bitters

Ice: Big Cube
Garnish: Ouma Rusk Dusted Rim

The U.S. distilled spirits industry is committed to social responsibility. Adults who choose to drink should do so in moderation and responsibly at all times. For more information: | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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