Julian Short is a mixologist and bar mamanger at Sin + Tax
Julian Short is a mixologist and bar mamanger at Sin + Tax
Image: Supplied

Africa’s first biannual international cocktail and spirits festival, Ajabu kicks off this weekend, in Johannesburg from 10-13 March and in Cape Town from 14-17 March. It brings together bartenders from internationally acclaimed bars, including Allegory in Washington DC, Front/Back in Accra, Hero Bar in Nairobi, Rayo in Mexico City, Sweet Liberty in Miami and Trailer Happiness in London.

They will collaborate with leading local bars to deliver distinct cocktail experiences over two nights. The participating local bars are: A Streetbar Named Desire, Benchwarmers, Saint, SinTax and Smoking Kills in Johannesburg; and Cause Effect, Fable, Talking to Strangers, The Drinkery, The House of Machines and Tjing Tjing in Cape Town.

Colin Asare Appiah (Bar World 100 Most Influential Figures 2023, and co-author of Black Mixcellence) and Mark Talbot Holmes (founder of the award-winning U’Luvka Vodka) are the curators of the festival. With it, they hope to connect the hospitality industry and their community across Africa and beyond, to inspire innovation and collaboration while celebrating the continent’s diversity, ingredients and beverages.

The culmination of the festival has been years in the making.

“My connection to SA began in 2002, when I came to Cape Town with Douglas Ankrah and the LAB team to create a foundational space for the cocktail industry. This offered an opportunity to connect with the local bar community,” Asare-Appiah said.

“In Cape Town, we recognised an opportunity to connect the various industry friends that we had made all over the world around a celebration of the incredible diversity of talent and ingredients in SA.”

A trend that the drinks writer and Ajabu partner, Leah van Deventer, notes in the local mixology culture is the use of natural, indigenous ingredients.

“We’re fortunate to have a veritable Eden of unique plants in SA, and for a few years now the trend of using these to flavour cocktails has been growing,” she said.

Founders Colin Asare-Appiah and Mark Talbot Holmes
Founders Colin Asare-Appiah and Mark Talbot Holmes
Image: Crave Concepts

In terms of inclusivity, the culture is still lagging behind.

“Sadly, the industry is still largely male driven, but there is a small, dedicated community of women working the stick. I run a support group catering to these incredible individuals called Sisterhood of Industry Support (SIS),” said Van Deventer.

Ajabu Cocktail and Spirits Festival promotes an inclusive space and among its activities will be discussions and symposia speaking to this and upliftment within the industry. Also included are masterclasses and symposia dedicated to upskilling and education where themes such as menu design and storytelling, seasonal ingredients, cocktail trends, and techniques and technology will be on the table.  

Ajabu will host another weeklong event across both cities in November, partnering with Cape Town Beverage Show

Registration for festival tickets is at quicket

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