Ten years ago, opaline bottles of vodka on ice were the standard of cool, contemporary drinking, and tart cocktails in bright hues were the preserve of party-going women the world over. But the trajectory of epicurean drinking appears to have taken a nostalgic turn of late, with old-fashioned cocktails and European apéritifs enjoying an unexpected revival. It’s out with the Mojito and in with the Old Fashioned; while, on the other hand, historically second-tier spirits like tequila and mezcal are emerging as the new artisanal elite. In short, the time is ripe for you to update the way you drink, lest your liquor cabinet becomes a laughing stock.
INVEST IN SOME APEROL
While it’s always been enjoyed in an après-ski capacity, Aperol hasn’t exactly merited the status of a staple; indeed, many a bottle of the viscous orange liquor has been relegated to the role of an ornament on the shelves of well-stocked bars. But it might be time to bring this august Italian apéritif out of retirement: Aperol is making a serious comeback. A pleasantly bitter infusion of orange and herbs, Aperol is the (significantly) less alcoholic cousin of Campari, and is best enjoyed in the form of an Aperol Spritz – that is, in conjunction with a delicate balance of prosecco and soda water.
LOSE THE SHOT GLASSES
Tequila has never gone out of fashion, but it’s always been in with the wrong crowd. Typically, it’s meted out in diminutive glasses and dispatched with a grimace, some salt, and a palliative slice of lemon. Thanks to a select range of ultra-premium labels, though, the agave-based beverage is attracting a new demographic of drinkers, who are not averse to spending upwards of R2,000 for a distillation they can drink on the rocks.
Tequila Casa Noble, George Clooney’s (recently sold) Casamigos, and bespoke brands like Blue Nectar Tequila are just a few of the brands responsible for tequila’s new luxury affiliations; but even premium tequila may very soon be somewhat passé. George Clooney and Rande Gerber are looking to take Mexican spirit mezcal mainstream, and, if their success with Casamigos tequila is any indication, you’ll soon be seeing the smoky spirit everywhere.
Cognac for Armagnac. The slightly less-refined French brandy is beginning to replace cognac in cocktails, as its slightly more heterogeneous flavour – an attribute of its comparatively rudimentary makeup – adds an enjoyable complexity to classics like Sidecars and Stingers.
Naturally, the nature of cocktails is evolving in accord with the trends in spirits, and we seem to be reverting to the favorites of yesteryear. Our growing appetite for sharper, more aromatic tastes might explain why cocktails such as the Old Fashioned and the Negroni are suddenly reappearing on menus: these are refreshing, verdant drinks, with the added appeal of old world glamour. Stock up on Angostura bitters, vermouth rosso, rye whiskey and Campari; and take a (much needed) hiatus from artisanal gin.
SOME OTHER THINGS TO TRY...
Benédictine – an herbal liqueur invented by French monks and owned by Bacardi. It’s good in a surprisingly vast array of cocktails, with an inimitable flavour and spiciness.
Chartreuse – another cloistered concoction, from the Carthusian monks in France – is the namesake of the colour, a distinct, not-quite-vegetal shade of green. It’s aged with 130 kinds of herbs and flowers, and can be drunk straight, either cold or at room temperature; but this oily green liqueur is very sweet, and is generally used in small quantities in cocktails.
Drambuie – an oft-overlooked, ultra-versatile blended Scotch whiskey that is resurfacing in cocktails and on menus. It marries well with an array of liqueurs, and is an excellent complement to coffee.