Back in our early Karoo day, after we’d gone mad and shipped ourselves to Sutherland in the Karoo-Hoogland, we opened a little family restaurant and, under my daughter’s guidance, included a cocktail menu as part of the, erm, mix. With hindsight, that took some highballs, there being (as one has since learnt) much more involved with the making of a cocktail than just, well, you read the blurb above. This is not in any way to say that our cocktail venture was a disaster. Far from it; we served many cocktails before and after service. There was even the occasional customer who wanted to work their way through the entire cocktail menu throughout their dinner. Their departures were always interesting.
Our favourite customers were bikers and gay couples. In both cases, these were people who wanted to live, and had the budget to do it. Cocktail menus would be called for as punters settled themselves on the stoep, beneath the narrow afdakkie. After two or three cocktails, they’d move to the dining room and order the best wine, and then another bottle and another; three courses, dessert wine, liqueurs and then, oh what the hell, we’ll go back to the stoep and look at the stars, can you bring us another bottle of wine please? Nirvana was gay bikers – you knew it was gonna be a fine old night.
Always having been a late starter – I learnt to drive, and to swim, at the age of 36 – I subsequently developed a tendency to throw myself into something new to avoid FOMO setting in. So, daunting as the prospect might have been of introducing a cocktail menu in the same week that I’d learnt to make them, I knew there was only way to go: just do it.
My daughter Rebecca, then 21, had become expert at cocktail mixing when she worked at a posh pub in Chichester, the county town of West Sussex, our home town in the early 2000s. So, during a visit to Sutherland, she was able to teach dad a new trick or three. I remember the day she took me shopping at Makro, north of Cape Town, and told me that my job was to push the trolley, hers was to fill it up. Bottle after bottle went in, a cocktail shaker went in, a strainer, glasses, mixers; Cointreau, Amarula Cream, Cognac, brandy, rum, whisky, dry vermouth, sweet vermouth, bitters, Grenadine, vodka, gin, tequila, triple sec, cranberry juice, lime juice… The theme tune playing in my head was Pink Floyd’s Money. Which, I swear, actually played once we got to the till. Listen while you continue reading:
… dum-dum dum-dum doo-doo-doo-doo shhhhhhuk… one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, four … eish. So you become rather determined to get the cocktail menu together, practise practise practise, and start selling them cocktails. We decided to use classics and adapt them, since who were we to make them up from scratch. Even that slight departure was perhaps a tad bold, or arrogant, but what else to do but throw yourself into something and see what happens. Which we did. There was a Cosmopolitan, a Sidecar and a Martini (we could do a dirty one on request, we always had olive brine). No messing with those. We had a Tequila Sunset, which was an inverted Tequila Sunrise. Just to be different and cool. We were selling cocktails at sunset, after all.
There was Sex in the Veld, which always got a laugh. There was a Sutherland Snowball, made of Amarula Cream and vanilla ice cream and a nod to the wintry wasteland that was our new home; all white on the night. One day we awoke to snow on the ground, so opened up in the morning and put Sutherland Snowballs on the menu; soon there were coat-and-scarf-draped tourists on the stoep, sipping Sutherland Snowballs while they shivered. What they really needed was a couple of bracing Martinis. Which we may have also sold them.
That was then. Food photographer Louis Pieterse seemed quite aghast this week when, soon after he’d arrived for a cocktail mixing session, it became apparent to him that I hadn’t had a practice run with my intended cocktails. Worse, even though I’d written down some vague mixes, I pretty much ignored them when the moment came when he said, “Right, which one are we doing first?” (Why do I tell these stories against myself? Place facepalm emoji here.)
Well, the first one did not work out. It had seemed to at first. I’d made some super strong coffee and chilled it in the freezer. I had a bottle of Bumbu, a delicious rum aperitif that we’re not allowed to call rum. (You can call it that in Barbados, but not in South Africa, because the proof falls foul of our liquor laws. Too much regulation!) Well, they can’t stop me from calling it rum when I’m in my back yard with my mates at the braai side.
Anyway, the first cocktail was t0 comprise strong coffee, Bumbu, chilli-chocolate tequila, with a topping of Tant’ Sannie se Mektert Tradisionele Poeding in a Glass. How cool is that stuff? Round my part of the world, shots of this are called melktertjies. Gooi my ‘n melkterjie daar, you might hear at the bar.
Remembering how, in the Sutherland cocktail days, or daze, we’d make our little Perlman Pearlies in shot glasses with layers of Amarula Cream and Van der Hum liqueur, I knew that the heavier of two liquors would sink to the bottom while the lighter one collected at the top. And, remembering the many Irish Coffees I used to make back in the Eighties when they were A Thing, long before the term A Thing became fashionable, I knew that you could pour cream over the curved back of a dessert spoon to get it to settle on top of the liquor-enhanced hot coffee. But, as Louis patiently remarked, it would have been best to have tested it first. (Where’s the fun in that? And where’s that raised eyebrows emoji?)
The coffee, not-rum and chilli-chocolate tequila were thrown about in a cocktail shaker and strained into a brandy goblet. We watched, thrilled, as a beautiful crema collected at the top, like a miniature Guinness being lovingly poured. But we wanted the Melktert too. Using the upside-down spoon method as for an Irish Coffee, I slowly poured Tant’ Sannie’s best on top, which, rather than collect at the top, slid ever so gracefully to the bottom, so that you had a very pleasing triple layer effect, like a coffee liqueur sandwich. Brilliant!
And then … while Louis was photographing it … it began to curdle. A little, then a little more, and and and… damn. So near but…
But! The others worked, beautifully. I’d bought sundry little cans of Chinchona pink tonic, sparkling cranberry with a hint of chilli, blue tonic (which we didn’t use, once it dawned on me that the Bumbu would destroy the blue hue, and Bumbu was meant to be the hero of most of our liqueurs) and, intriguingly, a can of Cannabis Light Drink I’d found at my local Spar Tops. The Chinchona pink tonic and sparkling cranberry with a hint of chilli did get used. Gratifyingly.
I poured, into a highball glass, 1 tot of Pimm’s No 1 and 1 tot of Bumbu spirit aperitif, and filled it up with equal parts of pink tonic and cranberry. Louis, who has an artist’s eye for presentation, added slices of cucumber and strawberry, as well as fresh mint, and the joy was that not only did it look beautiful, it tasted just as good.
The “Cannabis Light Drink” had to be used for something. So I poured, also into a highball glass, 1 tot of Jose Cuervo Blue Agave Silver Tequila (the Rolling Stones tour pick, no less) with 1 tot Roses’s lime cordial (you try to find fresh limes in Cradock), and filled it up with dope juice, garnished with mint and cucumber. No Bumbu, but I had to use the dope drink. The result was a perfect drink for a hot spring or summer’s day.
Bumbu is marketed, in other countries, as the “world’s most decorated rum” (their word) and as a “small-batch, limited production rum” (ditto): “Made from top-quality sugarcane expertly selected from eight countries throughout the West Indies, Bumbu is blended with Barbados’ naturally pure, coral-filtered water and aged in oak barrels for up to 15 years to create an ultra-smooth spirit with a taste as complex as the brand’s rich history.”
They sent me a brochure entitled “Bumbu – The Craft Rum: A Series of Exclusive Summer Cocktails from Around the World” (they’re from London, the US, France and Switzerland). From Nantes, France there’s Le PickWick, from Jacob Willis at The Twenty, New York City, there’s Computer Blue; from Rory O’Sullivan at 65 & King, London, there’s Darkest Hour, and from Sons of Essex, also NYC, there’s Summer Somewhere.
So, here’s a plan: Give new meaning to the term “cocktail party”. Invite people over for an evening of inventing your own cocktails. Everyone brings a bottle from a list that’s been sent out earlier. Choices are ticked off to avoid duplication. Everyone brings a different mixer, a garnish or two, and grabs whatever cocktail equipment they have. Maybe have some Panado to hand.
Try some of these, or invent your own:
• 40mL Bumbu Rum
• 6mL Guava juice
• 2mL Guarana syrup
• Schweppes Lemon (or alternative lemon-flavoured sparkling seltzer)
Add Bumbu, Guava juice and Guarana syrup to a shaker with ice and shake. Pour into a highball. glass over ice and top of with Schweppes Lemon.
Created by Jacob Willis at The Twenty, New York City
• 30mL Bumbu Rum
• 60mL Pineapple juice
• 30mL Blue Curaçao
• 30mL Coconut cream
Shake all ingredients in a shaker. Pour over ice into tumbler glass. For a slushy texture, blend all ingredients with ice instead.
• 45mL Bumbu Rum (or spirit aperitif if you’re in South Africa)
• 5mL Caramel
• 15mL Kahlúa
• 15mL Tawny port
• 6 dashes Angostura bitters
• Sugar cubes
• Chocolate dust
• Orange twist
Dust the top of a goblet glass with chocolate powder and store in the freezer. Stir all ingredients except absinthe in a mixing glass, strain mixture into a flask and set aside. Place a brown sugar cube in a tea strainer and submerge in absinthe. Once soaked, set on fire. Pour cocktail through flame into prepared glass and garnish with an orange twist.
• 60mL Bumbu Rum
• 15mL Strawberry purée
• 45mL Orange juice
• 30mL Lime juice
• 15mL Brown sugar
Combine all ingredients in a shaker. Add ice and shake. Serve over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.
But wait, there’s more…
So. Those guys up there, they’re the cocktail experts. Point is, though, that cocktail mixing can be a whole lot of fun. On some hot summer’s night coming soon to a back yard near you, gather your mates, set out the bottles, glasses, mixers, shakers and sundry cool stuff you have on a table, and let your imagination go. You may be surprised at how great some of your creations are. And there’ll be the odd booby prize along the way. That’s the price of invention.
So, here’s what Louis and I made this week:
1 tot Pimm’s No 1
1 tot Bumbu
Chinchona Pink Tonic
Fitch & Leedes Cheeky Cranberry with a hint of chilli
Cucumber, strawberries and mint for garnish
Stir Pimm’s and Bumbu over ice in a highball glass. Fill up with equal parts of freezer-chilled (but not frozen) pink tonic and cranberry cooler. Garnish with cucumber slices, strawberry and mint.
1 tot Jose Cuervo Blue Agave Silver Tequila
Cannabis Light Drink
The cannabis drink – really, they could have come up with a more dope name for it – comes in 200ml cans. Spoon crushed ice into a highball glass, pour in the tequila and stir. Fill up with the green stuff, decorate with cucumber and mint, and … well … chill.
2 tots Bumbu (spirit aperitif)
2 tots Frangelico
2 tots Amarula Cream
Shake with ice in a cocktail shaker, and pour into a Martini glass. Savour. Now go to bed. DM
Mooning is considered a form of free speech in the United States.