Creative cocktails, sustainability the big trend this summer

Sustainability, fresh produce and a lot of creative flair are the secrets for on-trend cocktails this season.

This summer’s top cocktails are sustainably made, fresh and creative, and best of all, easy to make, says Cape Town cocktail expert Cassandra Eichhoff.

Eichhoff, winner of the Bar Awards Mentor of the Year title, and director of the European Bartender School in Cape Town, says South Africa is catching up with international cocktail trends, which favour drinks made with sustainability in mind. The European Bartender School, franchised in 28 locations around the world, trains international bartenders and changes its curriculum every year to stay abreast of fast-changing fashions. 

South Africa may lag slightly behind the rest of the world, but local aficionados are on-trend when it comes to enjoying distilled spirits such as premium whiskeys and the latest cocktails, she says.

“Internationally and in South Africa, bartenders and spirits connoisseurs are using more fresh produce in cocktails,” she says. “Bars around the world are also focusing more on sustainability, so they’re looking for ways to reduce waste. For example, when they use a lot of fresh lemon juice, they are now using the peels to make lemon syrup or lemon sherbet too, to the point where there is virtually no waste,” she says.

Cassandra Eichhoff, winner of the Bar Awards Mentor of the Year title, and director of the European Bartender School in Cape Town. Eichhoff demonstrated fresh summer cocktails blended with a range of U.S. distilled spirits.

Zero waste bartenders around the world are finding creative ways to use leaves, stems, skins and roots of fresh produce in their cocktails and garnishes; turning offcuts and left over produce into fruit and herb infusions; as well as upcycling and repurposing waste such as coffee grounds to make coffee liqueur. Oxidised wine can be repurposed for vinegar or reductions for cocktails, leftover fruit can be dehydrated or crystallised for use as edible garnishes, and straws can be replaced with lemon grass – or done away with altogether.

Cocktail flair for home entertaining

While not everyone is equipped to produce homemade lemon sherbet or pineapple beer, Eichhoff says you don’t need to be an expert bartender to create a stylish cocktail – and it’s something more and more hosts are attempting when they entertain at home.

At an American themed cocktail-making session held at the European Bartending School this month, Eichhoff explained that adult spirits consumers don’t need a fully equipped bar to mix show-stopping drinks.  “For home cocktails, it’s not really necessary to have a variety of tools. You could shake up a cocktail in a Consol jar, or muddle limes with a kitchen spoon,” she says.

She recommends experimenting with spirits, paying attention to their heritage and flavour profile, before deciding what ingredients to mix with them. “Be creative. There are no limits – as long as the drink tastes good and looks good. But it’s important to use quality ingredients and fresh produce wherever possible,” she says. 

Fine American distilled spirits, many of them still relatively unknown to South Africans, are ideal for summer cocktails, she says. American Whiskeys, for example, have some unique flavour profiles that work really well in cocktails. 

Eichhoff demonstrated fresh summer cocktails blended with Wild Turkey Bourbon and Whistling Andy gin, and guests sampled a range of U.S. distilled spirits from brands well-established in the SA market, such as Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniel’s and Bulleit Bourbon, as well as several new products.

 Among the fine American distilled spirits sampled at the event were:

Dad’s Hat Rye whiskey – a genuine small batch whiskey hand crafted in Pennsylvania in line with the state’s 18th century rye whiskey techniques.  This lush and complex rye has hints of pepper and cinnamon spice, green apple, fig and cocoa powder with a long, smooth and lingering finish.

Golden Moon Kümmel – a spirit modelled on a traditional central European liqueur made from caraway with lemon, mint and fennel for a crisp, clean flavour.

Jim Beam Straight Bourbon whiskey – a Bourbon crafted with the Beam family values since 1795 and aged twice as long as the law requires. Today, Jim Beam stands as the world’s #1 Bourbon.

Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey – a Tennessee whiskey featuring a bold and spicy upfront taste that mellows with sweet caramel and maple. Uncle Nearest Tennessee whiskey is named for Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green and distilled utilising an intricate 11-step, 25-day process and one-of-a-kind triple charcoal mellowing.

Sagamore Spirit Cask Strength Rye whiskey – a whiskey fully aged and exploding with colour and flavour, this rye has a bold cinnamon, clove and vanilla aroma and smooth dark chocolate palate with intense notes of black pepper and brown sugar.

Koval Dry Gin – a gin distilled with a unique variety of woodland spices, juniper and wildflowers envelop the nose, while the taste is dry, yet vibrant.

Cocktail Recipes: 

Garden Route
Whistling Andy Gin
Summer Cordial (Mango, Strawberry & Lemon Pelargonium)
Elderflower Tonic
Garnished with a Strawberry & Pepper Tuile and Pelargonium Leaf

Andy’s Summer Lovin’
Whistling Andy Gin
Bianco Vermouth
Watermelon & Ginger Syrup
Lime Juice
Topped with MCC
Garnished with Lime Zest and Basil Sprig

Wake Me Wild
Wild Turkey Bourbon
Espresso (coffee or rooibos)
Vanilla Honey
Tawney Port
Garnished with Mint Sprig

Hunters Ice Tea
Wild Turkey Bourbon
Milk Stout Maple Syrup
Triple Sec
Lemon Juice
Garnished with Lemon Wedge and Citrus Sugar

Classic Cocktails

Tom Collins
Gin Basil Smash

Whiskey Sour
Mint Julep

For more information about American distilled spirits in SA, go to or follow and @USwhiskeyZA.