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The most popular South African Cocktails to enjoy this winter


South Africa’s winter landscape is a varied one and because of this, more often than not, your taste for cocktails will change seasonally depending on where you live. For instance, whilst Durban experiences mild winters, Cape Town is cool and wet, and Johannesburg is largely cold and dry.

Sure, every cocktail bar offers a range of classic cocktails to suit any season and that everyone will recognise, but they also make up exclusive creations consisting of unusual homegrown mixers, locally produced liqueurs and in some cases even bitters with a South African twist.

Raymond Endean, owner of Cape Towns famed Orphanage Cocktail Emporium says they offer the usual classics such as the Negroni or Old Fashioned, but they also make cocktails with a bit more creative flair such as their signature cocktail, “More Tea Vicar”. It is served in a tea cup, comprised of vanilla-infused vodka, rooibos syrup, lemon juice, cranberry juice and cellulose solution, and comes with a block of lemon rooibos jelly on the side. So, what is the most popular cocktail ordered by Orphanage customers when it’s cold out?

Endean says; “The Crematorium. This is served in a half jack bottle wrapped in brown paper and is a hot cocktail. It comprises of tequila, lime juice, vanilla rooibos syrup, orange peel and ginger. It is set on fire before serving hot in the half jack bottle. It is a play on the original “Blue Blazer” cocktail invented by professor Jerry Thomas. Our guests love the heat as well as the theatre around the drink.”

In Durban, owner of the popular Lucky Shaker bar in Umhlanga, Michael Stephenson, says the most prevalent year-round classic cocktails on their menu tend to be the Whisky Sour, Old Fashioned and Margarita but they also serve up their own inventions like the aptly named “Winter Punch”, a clarified milk punch that is a combination of dark rum, bourbon, apple, grapefruit, demerara sugar, Angostura Bitters and chai tea with a host of winter spices like cardamom, cinnamon and star anise. They add milk to the punch – which curdles due to the acidity of the citrus juices – but once they filter it they are able to separate the curd from the whey. The “Winter Punch” ends up being nice and clear but still retains the smooth and silky tecture of a creamy drink. When asked what the most popular winter cocktail at Lucky Shaker is, Stephenson says: “Our winters in Durban are pretty mild so guests still order the usual refreshing drinks but there is a definite increase in stirred drinks like our “Fireside”, which is made with brandy, toasted marshmallows, a hint of sherry and smoky Scotch.”

In Joburg, Julian Short, owner of the well-loved cocktail bar, Sin + Tax says their best seller overall is an original called The Main Squeeze, but they also offer unusual cocktails like a bubbly take on the famous Bloody Mary cocktail in which they’ve used roasted tomato, sundried tomato, fresh watermelon, gin and soy sauce. Short says: “Our bestseller every winter is the classic Old Fashioned. It’s an unquestionably tasty cocktail and perfect for the cold weather.”

So, whether you’re going classic or creative around the country this winter it seems there is no one-cocktail fits all or every season solution. To each his own. 

But in general, the Old Fashioned remains a firm SA favourite.

Old Fashioned The most popular South African Cocktails to enjoy this winter

Any cocktail bar worth their salt uses Angostura Aromatic and Orange Bitters in their classics as they add great depth and spice to drinks, especially those made with aged spirits. The Old Fashioned is a simple classic cocktail to make and certainly wouldn’t be the same without it – try it for yourself:

  • 60ml Bourbon
  • 1½ teaspoons Demerara syrup (one-part Demerara sugar dissolved in one-part hot water)
  • Splash of water
  • 2 dashes Angostura Aromatic Bitters
  • 1 dash Angostura Orange Bitters

Build in a lowball glass, stir with ice to incorporate ingredients. Garnish with a long orange peel.