From classic Old Fashioneds to modern Martinis

From classic Old Fashioneds to modern Martinis
Floating boats at Catch 22 right now is the Thai Tini, featuring Tanquery No. 10 shaken cold with dry vermouth, fresh lime, passion fruit puree and fresh basil. Topped with a light, yet creamy plant-based foam. Photo: Catch 22

Once just a mixture of spirits, sugar, water, and bitters, the cocktail has come a long way since the 1860s.

Tick tock – it’s almost New Year’s Eve, and this year is particularly significant because it heralds the beginning of the return of the Roaring

20s. It’s a lot of pressure and high expectations and hopes, given the reputation of the decade’s first time around.

In the prosperous US, to which we often look for inspiration, it was an exuberant time when many people defied Prohibition, indulged in new styles of dancing and dressing – jazz and flappers, and rejected many traditional moral standards as women cut their hair, rouged their knees and rolled their stockings down. If anything in recent years has summed it up for us, it was the 2013 film The Great Gatsby, based on F Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel of the same name. The film was co-written and directed by Baz Luhrmann and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the eponymous Jay Gatsby. If you can’t throw a ridiculously decadent party like the one in the movie, what even are you doing with your life?

All right, most of us don’t have the riches to afford such a fling, but that doesn’t mean you have to curtail your December 31 celebrations. We’ve rounded up some cocktail bars – and bartenders – who have plenty of ideas for imaginative and creative drinks to put you in the mood for a night to remember.

Once upon a time, cocktails were a mixture of spirits, sugar, water and bitters, but by the 1860s, they often included a liqueur. It’s believed “Professor” Jerry Thomas, a pioneering and flamboyant American bartender who published the first bar manual in 1862, is the one responsible for the original meaning of drinks like the Old Fashioned whisky cocktail, the Sazerac cocktail, and the Manhattan, which we still find on menus today.

The Sazerac is the most classic of cocktails and it’s what Art Of Duplicity head barman Brent Perremore will be drinking to welcome back the roaring 20s. Photo: The Art of Duplicity

Of course, there are dozens – if not hundreds – of new and exciting flavour combinations, working on the basis of a balance between the alcohol and the other ingredients, with the sugar, water and bitters being represented by fruits and syrups.

Gabbi Katz, co-owner of Catch 22 Beachside Grille & Bar and great cocktail lover, drinker and creator, believes the perfect drink should be innovative, fresh and have that perfect balance between strength, sweet and sour.

I like cocktails that are modern takes or twists on traditional classic drinks. An out-of-the-box ingredient or flavour combination always piques my interest, but I believe working on the base of a classic drink that we all know and have some understanding of the flavour profile, makes it easier to know that you’re selecting a drink you’re going to enjoy.

The worst thing is ordering a cocktail from a menu that you really just don’t enjoy… but hey, we sip and we learn! I am also an absolute sucker for a beautifully garnished or presented cocktail. We experience the drink with our eyes before our nose and taste buds after all.”

The Champagne Cocktail has as many twists as the stars who drink it. Photo: supplied

Many of us think of New Year and bubbly at the same time. Sure, pop open a few bottles, but why not take it further with a fizzy cocktail? It’s been said Madonna and Charlize Theron are fans of the Champagne Cocktail, which is right up there with the most traditional of drinks. It’s super simple to make:

Drop a sugar cube into a flute and saturate with Angostura aromatic bitters. Then top up the glass with the MCC of your choice and garnish with lemon peel.

Kurt Schlechter from Cause|Effect says it’s his favourite NYE cocktail, and he layers in a tot of Cape brandy and two teaspoons of sugar syrup for his version. While he’ll be drinking that, or neat Champagne, at 11.59pm on the 31st, Schlechter is creating a non-alcoholic CBD Collins for the occasion, with Seedlip (non-alcoholic distilled botanical), Cura CBD mint oil, elderflower, citrus and sparkling water. Teetotallers and designated drivers don’t have to feel left out.

His other NYE creations are Tequila Brûlée with tequila (obviously), custard and flambé brown sugar-dipped lime; and Pineapple & Ginger Sorbet Spritz, a combination of Martini Prosecco, Rosso vermouth, soda, and pineapple ginger sorbet.

The hottest cocktails for 2020 will be Negronis and Martinis made with local vermouth and local gins, low ABV (alcohol by volume) cocktails,” says Schlechter.

His perfect cocktail?

Vermouth Spritz – light and delicate, perfectly balanced with fruity botanical vermouth, soda and Martini Prosecco, the best summer cocktail,” he says.

Can one even talk about NYE cocktails that don’t feature a bubble or fizz of some sort? “If I have a beautiful local MCC, Prosecco or a French Champagne I don’t want to get too fussy with it – just enhance and savour it,” says Katz.

For a special occasion I do love adding some pomegranate jewels and just a dash of something floral – elderflower or rose syrup. Naturally a fresh rose petal or other edible flower dropped on top will give your NYE bubbly that instant glam look,” she says.

In addition to being co-owner of a restaurant, Katz is a pin-up model – stylish and sophisticated – so believe her when she says: “This NYE I would also recommend sipping your bubbly from a coupe champagne glass – the must-have 20s cocktail glassware!”

The Art Of Duplicity, the 1920s Prohibition themed bar – complete with secret password to enter – has generated as much hype as its parent, Truth Coffee Roasting. With the latter’s Sowf Effriken menu you can eat traditional dishes with more twists and turns than a roller coaster, and sip cocktails based on famous brands like Oros and Stoney ginger beer.

Another spin on a Sowf Effriken favourite – Oros orange squash – the Orosie is Bloedlemoen gin, OJ, grenadine, orange liqueur and socks blood orange tonic. Photo: The Art of Duplicity

OROSie is Bloedlemoen gin, orange juice, Grenadine, orange liqueur, Socks blood orange tonic; Stoner is Blitsem witblits with ginger and hemp soda, and lime.

Not like Ouma made it – Truth’s Melktert Pina Colada is made with Mhoba rum, Takamaka coconut rum, condensed milk, pineapple and cinnamon. Photo: Truth

Got a hankering for Ouma’s melktert? This one will blow her floral frock up: Mhoba rum, Takamaka coconut rum, condensed milk, pineapple and cinnamon. The Fat Cat is a grown-up version inspired by all our childhoods with Amarula, Floating Dutchman rum, golden syrup, peanut butter and banana. You could even call it a meal in a glass, a bit like the olives in a Martini, which is oft-referred to in quotes by famous people. For example, “If it wasn’t for the olives in his martinis he’d starve to death”, accredited to Milton Berle.

Head barman Brent Perremore reckons one should always go into the New Year drinking something bubbly. His recommendation is The Geisha’s First Blossom, which he says is a riff on a French 75. Expanding on that classic, it’s made with Tanqueray No 10, cherry brandy, yuzu and jasmine cordial, bubbly and rose petal sherbet.

The Geisha’s First Blossom: From the Art Of Duplicity, a riff on a French 75 made with Tanqueray No 10, cherry brandy, yuzu and jasmine cordial, bubbly and rose petal sherbet. Photo: The Art of Duplicity

Passion, creativity and imagination are always the best ingredients for a cocktail,” he adds. To mark a century since Prohibition began (1920-1933), Perremore will see in 2020 with a Sazerac in his hand. His recipe is Sazerac rye whisky, maple syrup, Peychaud bitters, and an Absinthe rinse.

Catch 22 is updating its cocktail menu for NYE. “I’ve begun focusing on less complicated cocktails which show off fresh and unique flavour profiles and combinations,” says Katz. “We are always inspired by the tropics, being (or at least pretending) we’re on vacation, and our beautiful seaside location, so our cocktail offerings do tend to lean towards fruitier, tiki-inspired drinks. I am however enjoying incorporating fresh herbs, spices, teas and aperitifs to these traditionally sugar-heavy drinks to create more balanced, sophisticated sippers, and also excited to draw more focus to local brands and ingredients.”

The new creations include the following:

The Mai Thyme is a fresh herbaceous twist on a Mai Tai; dark rum is shaken cold with fresh lime, fresh pineapple juice, triple sec and a sprig of fresh thyme. Photo: Catch 22

The Mai Thyme – a fresh herbaceous twist on a Mai Tai in which dark rum is shaken cold with fresh lime, fresh pineapple juice, Triple Sec and a sprig of fresh thyme. Strained into a tumbler over ice, it’s finished with a splash of brewed thyme-infused hibiscus tea. The tumbler rim is garnished with a grind of sugar, dried raspberry, ginger and rose, which adds to the flavour profile.

The Siren’s Song at Catch 22 is a West Coast-inspired martini created around Amari Atlantic Ocean gin, a local gin distilled with ocean water and West Coast botanicals. Photo Catch 22

The Siren’s Song, a West Coast-inspired Martini cocktail, has Amari Atlantic Ocean gin as its base, a local gin distilled with ocean water and West Coast botanicals. “We felt the need to create a cocktail around this, to be able to show off our Western seaboard location in a sip,” comments Katz.

The gin is shaken cold with Triple Sec, fresh grapefruit juice and nori-infused brewed green tea. The cocktail is finished with a plant-based foam and sprinkled with toasted nori flakes.

The current trends in cocktails have most definitely veered away from the garishly lumo colours and synthetic overly-sugary flavours, and are very much inspired by the more sophisticated stripped-down classic cocktails from the 1920s era,” says Katz. “Most definitely next year will still see many classic cocktails reinvented with modern twists.

Gin will continue its current surge of popularity, but rum is on the up-and-up as well, so I’m very much looking forward to a new wave of rum-based cocktail offerings; more innovative than just Pina Coladas and Daiquiris. Herbals, aperitifs, bitters, natural homemade flavourings, seasonings and spices you may expect to find in the kitchen rather than the bar, will be used in unique combinations with beautiful smooth spirits and fresh fruit.”

We’ll leave you with one more easy-to-make festive drink for the New Year, which is the Richland Rumsecco, created by Richland Rum.

Created by Richland Rum, the Rumsecco is champagne glass with very dry cava, prosecco or champagne, with a splash of Richland Single Estate Old Georgia Rum. Photo: Richland Rum

Take one Champagne glass, fill it with any bubbly you fancy, and add a splash of Richland Single Estate Old Georgia Rum. The drink is inspired by and also a simplified version of an Old Cuban cocktail. Jamie Oliver makes them with lime juice, sugar syrup, mint leaves and a dash Angostura bitters.

As always, we support responsible drinking. Don’t become a statistic. DM


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