The 20 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities In South Africa, According To Industry Leaders

The Twenties. What a joyous phrase to the drinks industry? It conjures visions of jive and swing, filled with the hooch of youth. It holds so much promise. One can only ponder what lies ahead as we roll into a new decade of Twenties.

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And as much as we would like the 2020s to go down with the same magnitude as the 1920s, it’s highly unlikely. The idea of another prohibition is laughable and with the legalization of substances like THC and Psilocybin, booze is not no more the only pimp on the block. It will have to adapt as it stares down the double barrel of twenties. Marketshare will most definitely decline.

The Future

Todays electro-synth and radiant flamingos replaced the drunken feather boas of the 1920 jivesters. The future will probably be more like the eighties than the 1920s.

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Our primal obsession with mortality has pushed us toward a life where health and environment take precedence over excess. As a collective, the human race is now more aware than ever before. We want to know everything. What we eat, what we drink, what happened to the turtle with the straw up its nose? We need to know it all and it sure requires a lot of screentime, even more so if we want to find clues on what our future might hold.

Captains of Cocktail

We can look at these clues and make predictions all we want, but what exactly will go down in the next 10 years we will never know. We can only look back in certainty on how and who got us here.

With this in mind, we asked fifty of South Africa’s most noteworthy bartenders and industry leaders to nominate their most influential cocktail personalities in South Africa.

Cocktail revival in South Africa

As the cocktail revival in South Africa continues, we beg to ask if there ever was anything to revive in the first place? As a secondary colony and an apartheid state, South Africa never had the opportunity to relish in the splendour of the cocktail. Today it blossoms like a spring flower and similar to the new decade, it holds promise. It’s on the up, but eventually, as will all trends, it will hit the proverbial ceiling and drop to a less frantic state.

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Cold brew coffee trend chart example

We’ve recently experienced this with the craft beer revival. After the initial upward hype it crashed into the ceiling and dropped like a bag of moist hops as consumers got bored with its overpriced garage experiments.

The Up

On the drinks-trend-train, the ride up to the ceiling is normally paved with primary flavours. Bitter, sweet, sour, salty. Stuff we can easily identify. Craft beer resurfaced with bitter ales and shrubby IPAs, new world wines with grassy sauvignon blanc and punchy cabs, gin laced with everything from elephant poo to ERB. On the ride up we want bold. On the way down we want gentle.

The Upside Down

After South Africa’s brief affair with pale ales and the likes, everyone is sucking off light lagers again. Same with wine. Light. Easy. Dare I say non-alcoholic. We kicked Chardonnay in its oaky nuts and welcomed that easy Cinsault and loose Rose back into our “hashtag” bestlife.

Succeeding saturation, drink trends normally gravitate towards the lighter side and cocktails are no different.

Old school heavy hitters like Old Fashioneds and Negronis help revived the category, but looking forward with the ceiling insight, we will start to see lighter style drinks on the menu. Alcohol-shy spritzers, low-ABV highballs and tiki-style mocktails. Hey, at least it’s not the syrupy muck of the 80s.

Guiding us through this gauntlet of unknowns will be the people that got us here. Our captains of cocktail. And if we have to go by where they got us thus far, the future of the cocktail industry in South Africa looks brighter than ever.

1. Travis Kuhn

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Involvement: The Perfect Service, Vicious Virgin, South African BAR Award
Mentors: Kurt Schlechter

This result confirms what the industry suspected all along. Everyone loves Travis Kuhn and “dad jokes”. Kuhn is the real-life anomaly of a nice guy that ends first, and rightly so. He was crowned Diageo’s SA Bartender Of The Year in 2018, he’s a family guy, an entrepreneur, a restauranteur, but most important to us, he’s a bartender at heart.

Kuhn’s love for the industry is evident in the enthusiasm in which he applies himself. The man only does 100%.

While Cape Town flocks to see Travis behind his new bar, Vicious Virgin, the rest of the world can catch him on the BBC lifestyle show, First Dates South Africa, as the resident cocktail slinger.

Other Connections
Polynesian Pearl Diver, Long Street Café, World Class

2. Kurt Schlechter

Kurt Schlechter The 20 Most Influential Cocktail Personalities In South Africa, According To Industry Leaders

Involvement: Cause | Effect, CCK, Bar Stars Academy, Pernod Ricard
Mentors: Douglas Ankrah, Jamie Terrell

The reference to Kurt Schlechter as the godfather of South Africa’s cocktail industry might be stale by now but still very well-founded.

Kurt opened South Africa’s first mobile bar and bar school. He mentored half a dozen on this list, published cocktail books, won cocktail competitions, judged, consulted and still inspires.

This spirits aficionado’s dedication to the trade paid dividends in 2019 when Schlechter’s cocktail bar, Cause | Effect, won SA Cocktail Bar Of The Year and UK publication, Drinks International, listed Schlechter as the 82nd most influential drinks personality in the world.

Other Connections
The Bartenders Workshop, The Spirit Merchant Trading Company, LAB Bar, Fabbri, South African Navy, Shangri-La, Angostura

3. Julian Short

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Involvement: Sin+Tax
Mentors: Gareth Wainwright, Chris Rule

From the early days pouring Armageddon shots behind his mom’s bar in the Free State to shaking things up on the world stage, Julian Short can do no wrong. In his relatively short career, he bagged 8 competition wins and his bar, Sin+Tax in Rosebank, is racking up even more accolades.

Other Connections
Social on Main, The Landmark

4. Michael Stephenson

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Involvement: Lucky Shaker

Michael Stephenson, or Larry to the people in the known, is already part of the folklore in the SA cocktail story. Time at News Cafe HQ and Brandhouse (now Diageo) help shaped this whisky aficionado’s into the restauranteur he is today. His cocktail bar, Lucky Shaker, not only produces quality drinks but also next level bartenders. Larry’s motley crew of cocktail pirates have become respected legends in their own right, a testament to the man himself.

Other Connections
Monkey Bar, News Cafe, Brandhouse (Diageo), Monkey Shoulder

5. Gareth Wainwright

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Involvement: Little Fox Gin and Cocktail Bar, The Republican Drinks Agency
Mentors: Victor Pirez, Sasha Petraske

In 2004 Gareth Wainwright emerged from the West Rand to start the groundworks of what would one day become the cocktails industry we know in Joburg today. Over the years this industry legend opened numerous award-winning bars and consulted with everyone from liquor brands to hoteliers while continues to inspire new talent.

Other Connections
Salvatore’s Restaurant, Brandhouse (Diageo), Social on Main, The Landmark, Botanist Forager, Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, Topolinos, Blues Room

6. Owen O’Reilly

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Involvement: SIP Exclusive
Mentors: Kurt Schlechter, Etienne Schlechter, Travis Kuhn

It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock n roll. From the trenches of the Spur to the hookah pipes of Cubana, Owen O’Reilly rose from the hard miles to become the 2019 Diageo World Class SA Bartender Of The Year. With his A-Team of staff at his consultancy and events company, Owen educates and serves the industry with unabated passion.

Other Connections
Spur, Odds, Rhapsody’s, Cubana, Bartenders Workshop, Barcode Mobile

7. Jody Francis

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Involvement: Inverroche
Mentors: Michael Stephenson

Ex Durbannite, Jody Francis relocated to Cape Town in 2015 and the Mother City’s cocktail scene was never quite the same again. Here he worked his way up the marketing ladder and into the hearts of the industry. In 2019 Jody received the Best Brand Ambassador award at the BAR Awards for his work at Inverroche.

Other Connections
Harry’s Bar, Lucky Shaker, Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, The One & Only

8. Brent Perremore

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Involvement: Art of Duplicity, Crush Mobile Bar

A lifetime of cocktail slinging made Brent Perremore the respected master mixer he is today. Along the way, he picked up two Diageo SA Bartender Of The Year Awards, among other things, and more recently opened South Africa’s swankiest speakeasy, which also won Best New Bar at the BAR Awards in 2019.

Other Connections
Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Teatros, The Saint, AKA and Mondos, Kloof Street House, World Class

9. George S Hunter

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Involvement
Copper Monkey, Anvil Ice
Mentors: Denzel Heath, Gareth Wainright, Dominic Walsh, Julian Short, Dom DeLorenzo, Christopher Rule, Dino Batista, Raymond Endean

The only local bartender to nick a win in a major international cocktail competition, George Hunter also adds some pizzazz to bartenders life with this Copper Monkey business, supply swanky cocktail equipment to the trade.

Other Connections
Marble, Sin+Tax, The Landmark, Hard Rock Cafe, Anti Establishment, Bacardi, The Tahona Society, Absolut Invite, Beefeater, Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge

10. Dom Walsh

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Involvement
Molecular Bars

Dominic Walsh has consulted on cocktail menus at some of the most successful bars and restaurants in South Africa, as well as making a name for himself by competing and more recently judging cocktail competitions. His critically acclaimed cocktail bar, Mootee, was recognised as one of the Top 10 Best New Cocktail Bars In The World by the Spirited Awards before it’s untimely closure.

Other Connections
Mootee Bar, World Class, Angostura Global Cocktail Challenge, Tahona Society, Hendricks Gin, Monkey Shoulder, Liquid Chefs

  1. Chantelle Horn
  2. Denzel Heath
  3. Devin Cross
  4. Alex Farnell
  5. Peter Lebese
  6. Cassandra Eichhoff
  7. Pieter Oosthuizen
  8. Bruce Dorfling
  9. Leah van Deventer
  10. Marson Strydom