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Crisp and complex - the new shape of cocktails

Sophisticated global market clamours for innovative Insta-worthy cocktails

Trending craft cocktails have moved on from the days of syrupy sweet concoctions - now they are complex, sophisticated and innovative.

So says award-winning American mixologist and cocktail trendsetter Christy Pope, who travelled to South Africa this month with a delegation of leading American distillers led by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

The craft cocktail market is booming, and the art of mixology has achieved new levels of respect internationally, says Pope. A sophisticated market aged from 20-plus to 50-plus is embracing the craft cocktail trend, boosting the growth of exciting new cocktail bars around the world.

Pope, whose skills have helped propel the success of New York’s Milk & Honey, Cuffs & Buttons and Midnight Rambler cocktail venues, says top trends influencing cocktails now are:

    - Amaros. These Italian-styled herbal liqueurs and bitters containing a range of botanicals are being incorporated into fresher, crisper cocktails.

    - Sherry and port. Europe’s famed fortified wines are becoming popular ingredients in modern cocktails, says Pope.
    - Split bases. Mixologists are combining two spirits to form the main alcohol base, for a more complex result. “You might marry cognac and rum, cognac and whiskey, or rye whiskey and Applejack to create a new flavour mix,” says Pope.
    - Ice and water. “In the U.S. there is huge focus on the quality of the ice and water in cocktails now,” says Pope. “Mixologists are exploring the minerality of various waters, while specialist suppliers are doing well supplying huge, perfect ice cubes with no impurities, for the craft cocktail market.”

    - Savoury/saline. An emerging trend is the addition of hints of salt in craft cocktails.

“We’re seeing less fruit, less sweetness, and more astringent influences emerging,” says Pope.

Around the world, leading mixologists are focusing on the ‘mouth feel’ of cocktails, experimenting with new herbs and spices, fermentation processes, superfoods and health food ingredients, and swapping out fruit for vegetables in their creations. The quality of ingredients is crucial, and the presentation of cocktails has become an art in itself. Forget the traditional glass-with-paper-umbrella affair: now, your stylish craft cocktail might be served up in anything from a recycled bottle to a cocktail fountain, set out on an artisanal plank surrounded by complementary edibles, and beautifully garnished with a small bouquet of herbs or a swirl of caramelised sugar art, to satisfy the needs of keen ‘drinkstagrammers’.

American whiskeys, including Tennessee whiskey, Bourbon and Rye whiskey, make great foundations for creative cocktails, says Pope, who specially designed cocktails marrying American spirits with authentically South African ingredients for her visit to Johannesburg and Cape Town this month. “American whiskeys pair well with honey, herbs, fruits and teas, so a herbal tea like South Africa’s indigenous rooibos works really well with American whiskey,” she says.

Make Christy Pope’s U.S.-meets-SA cocktails at home!

Rooibos Punch

  • 15ml Lemon Juice
  • 11.25ml Ginger Syrup
  • 11.25ml Fynbos Honey Syrup
  • 90ml Rooibos Tea
  • 60ml Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila
  • Combine & Chill
  • Glass: Punch/Rocks
  • Garnish: Grated Nutmeg

Fancy Tennessee Cocktail:

  • 10ml Van Der Hum
  • 35ml Uncle Nearest Tennessee Whiskey
  • 1ml Angostura Bitters
  • Stir/Strain/Down
  • Glass: Rocks
  • Garnish: Orange Twist

Creole Bourbon Cocktail

  • 10ml Punt e Mes
  • 5ml House Amer
  • 5ml Benedictine
  • 25ml Wild Turkey Bourbon
  • Stir/Strain/Up
  • Glass: Chilled Coupe
  • Garnish: Orange Diamond

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

The U.S. distilled spirits industry is committed to social responsibility. Adults who choose to drink should do so in moderation and responsibly at all times. For more information:

Crisp and complex - the new shape of cocktails

International cocktail trendsetter and mixologist Christy Pope blends authentic American spirits with uniquely South African ingredients during a Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) delegation visit to Johannesburg and Cape Town in November.

Crisp and complex - the new shape of cocktails

Jessye Lapenn, Charge d ’affairs of the Embassy of the United States of America in Pretoria, Jim Higgiston, Deputy Chief of Mission, noted that the United States Department of Agriculture and Christy Pope, award winning Mixologist from Cuffs & Buttons, New York.

Crisp and complex - the new shape of cocktails

Among the American distillers who travelled to SA in November were Whistling Andy Handcrafted Spirits – a Montana-based craft distillery producing whiskeys, rums, gins and vodka; Red Eye Louie’s – makers of new blended products including Vodquila and Rumquila; and Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey – a Tennessee distillery named for Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green – the African-American head stiller who taught distilling techniques to Jack Daniel, founder of the Jack Daniel Tennessee whiskey distillery.

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