We Speak To Sabrina Traubner, Head Mixologist At Athletic Club & Social

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

It’s evident that Sabrina Traubner, the lead bartender from Athletic Club & Social, takes her cocktails seriously. We wanted to know more about her and Athletic Club & Social, so we spoke to her more about what it’s like being a mixologist. When you’re done reading, take a look at these festive cocktails that she created – they’re so delicious – perfect for the festive season and easy enough for anyone to create.

Athletic Club & Social

What has it been like working at The Athletic Club & Social, and in your opinion, how would you say it differs from other bars around Cape Town?

It has been incredible! I am really lucky to work with a team as strong as mine. At The Athletic Club & Social, there is a strong sense of community amongst the staff and guests alike. There is a homely atmosphere where guests feel welcome and a sense of familiarity when they sit down and enjoy a cocktail or a coffee. The space was curated to showcase old stories that have never been told before.

The building was once owned by a sports fanatic, Herbet Tothill. Tothill transformed the building into a social space for sports stars of all races to enjoy some drinks and appreciate how sport can bring people together.

We pride ourselves on making classic cocktails extremely well, where the art of mixing drinks is done with ultimate precision to show our guests the rich history of cocktail culture. I am constantly inspired to showcase different classic cocktails as well as showing them in a new light with clever twists, while still encompassing the foundations of classic cocktails.

Can you talk to us a little bit about your position at Athletic?

I am the bar manager & head bartender. I deal with the back of house logistics as well as being behind the library bar slinging some tasty cocktails on weekends. I create bespoke cocktails and cocktail menus for our guests to enjoy if they feel like tantalising their taste buds with something truly unique. I make sure to listen to our guests and take note of cocktail trends to create menus tailored specifically for an ACS local.

Athletic Club & SocialI am so fortunate to have the position I have by working both behind the scenes and behind the bar. It has pushed me to become a better businesswoman and to look at all aspects when I am behind the bar to make informed decisions as opposed to rushed decisions that can negatively impact the environment I create for both my staff and guests alike.

How would you describe the cocktail menu at Athletic Club & Social?

The smallest details can make or break a cocktail menu, such as the flavour profile or the style of the drink (spirit forward, highball, full-bodied etc.). That is why I take extra care and time to carefully curate our menu with unusual flavour combinations that are incredible, yet simple. We pride ourselves with having a menu filled with very well made classic cocktails with a twist by only using the best quality ingredients, and ensuring that the base spirit is always the hero.

Have you seen a different demand for certain drinks at Athletic Club & Social because of Covid?

No. Our most popular drinks are still the Old fashioned and the Whisky Sour which our locals keep coming back for. I have reduced the cocktail menu, however, there are still a variety of drinks that we are serving off-menu.

What made you want to become a Mixologist/how has the experience fared for you?

Athletic Club & SocialThe constant creativity and change are what drew me into the art of mixology. As a mixologist, you are constantly being pushed to create different drinks which needs to create an experience for your guest. You are constantly looking at new flavour combinations and styles of drinks to ensure that you create a cohesive menu that has a drink for everyone.

The bar industry is very high energy and very fun. It is a very creative environment with each individual having their own creative identity.

We as a community are constantly pushing each other to open our minds creatively by having conversations with each other to give perspective on how we think and why we make the decisions that we do to better our industry by bettering ourselves.

What cocktail trend would you like to see disappear?

Blended cocktails and anything with crushed ice. Those types of cocktails dilute the drinks much faster and mask 90% of the flavour from the base spirit, which in my opinion should be the hero of any cocktail. I would love to see more people experience all the wonderful products we have available, both international and local.

Could you tell us your favourite cocktail and what it entails?

Every time I get asked this question I have a different answer depending on how I’m feeling. I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite cocktail as I understand and appreciate them all individually.

Right now my favourite drink is a Moscow Mule, which includes vodka, Angostura Bitters, ginger beer, fresh lime juice.

A perfect, refreshing drink for these hot summer days. My favourite spirits that never change are definitely 100% agave tequilas and Jägermeister because of its complexity and flavour.

What goes into designing a cocktail menu?

There is a lot of thought and research that goes behind any menu. You need to make sure that you have checked your boxes when it comes to the style of drink in terms of flavour (light and fresh, full-bodied, spirit-forward), as well as the technique used for the bartenders behind the bar.

Athletic Club & SocialFor example, it isn’t wise to have a cocktail menu with only shaken drinks, because it will take too much time for the guests to receive their drink and not every cocktail can be shaken. So you would be limiting the offering.

You also need to think about the way that the cocktail reads on paper to your guests. For bartenders, it is much easier for us to imagine how a cocktail tastes like in terms of flavour combinations, but if flavours are too complicated the guest might get confused.

Seeing as you created these ‘at home’ cocktails above what’s your number 1 tip for every home bartender?

Simple is better. Juices, wines, citrus, bitters, bubbly and mixers (lemonade, ginger ale, soda, dry lemon, tonic) are great choices when mixing drinks at home. Built and stirred drinks are always best to make at home as they are easy and quick, especially since most people don’t have a full cocktail kit at home.

Always start with your ratios. The best ratios to use would be 1 part spirit, 1 part sweet, 1 part soda and 3 parts lengthener (juice, bubbly, soda’s etc.). Then choose your base spirit and identify what flavours are in there (you can even google the flavours) take the flavours you know and google pairings and don’t choose more than 2 additional flavours. Also, make sure you know how to balance out drinks. If something is too sweet add more sour components (i.e. lemon and lime juice are great options) or lengthen it with a mixer or bubbles.

Don’t forget to check out some festive cocktails Sabrina created especially for Crush readers here.

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