No one wants to make complicated cocktails in summer when the temperature breaks high digits, not even bartenders.
In these moments, drinking professionals rely on bottles that taste good and that you can sip neat, on ice, or in a basic highball.
Since our past two summers were blighted by the pandemic – braais limited to your nearest and dearest, holiday bookings put on hold just in case the beaches were once more named no-go zones – South Africans are definitely in a celebratory mood this year.
With that in mind, we spoke to drinks expert Rowan Leibbrandt, the founding partner of Truman & Orange, a premium drinks company, to share his top picks for summer sipping.
Dunville’s Irish Whiskey
We have seen the rise and rise of gin, then rum – and maybe it’s now whisky’s turn for some time in the sun. All of a sudden the whisky aisle seems to be the most interesting place in a liquor store again.
If you find yourself nodding while reading this, then my pick of the day is a wonderful find called Dunville’s Whiskey (note the ‘’e’’… it’s an Irish). It’s not just the flavour of this whiskey that people love: this is a brand that has a rich and inspiring story behind it, the kind that every bartender loves to serve up along with the drinks.
Dunville’s was once one of Ireland’s most well-known whiskies, loved from the time of its establishment in 1808 until the 1900s when US prohibition cut off Northern Ireland’s biggest market. Then came Irish independence, and another market was lost when the British stopped exports to their empire, and this venerable old distillery went out of business.
Fast-forward about 80 years to the 1990s, when an intrepid family started buying rare vintage Dunville’s bottles from auctions, rebuilt the distillery, and painstakingly recreated the range of whiskies to allow us to enjoy the brand just as it was over 200 years ago. If that doesn’t make you want to try their delicious range of smoky-sweet blends and single malts, then I don’t know what will.
Next on the list of “interesting stuff to come out of Ireland” has to be Shanky’s Whip. This speaks to the home bar experimentation that started during the pandemic, when most of us, limited to what was already stocked inside our cabinets, developed a taste for the novel.
Alcohol bans may have lifted, but the appetite for the unusual has stayed, and brands such as Shanky’s Whip are very much bang on trend.
Packaged in an eye-catching vintage-style bottle inspired by a retro matchbox design, the drink is based on the car bomb, a classic Irish drink comprising a shot of Irish whiskey dropped into a pint of Guinness. Just like the cocktail, this whiskey liqueur boasts a uniquely rich, creamy flavour – delicious, and totally unique.
Thames Bank Gin
And then there is gin! The two lost summers haven’t been kind to gin distillers, but as things get warmer, we’re seeing “Saffers” warm to gin and tonic again.
I think we all got a little tired of fynbos, rooibos and the every-varying array of random garnishes and were anticipating folks moving back to classic gin this summer. Once owned by Octavius Smith, a name right out of Dickens, the Thames Bank Distillery was located on the banks of London’s river, in what is now known as Chelsea.
Back in 1797, when it was built, it was the largest distillery in London, and while it no longer exists, the gin which today continues Octavius’s proud heritage is distilled 3km from that original site. This is a real old-school gun, bursting with chunky juniper flavour – a must if you’re serious about this spirit.
And finally, on the far another side of the spectrum, you might be one of those drinkers driving the ongoing momentum in the low alcohol space.
Again, this is a (very civilised) movement that kicked off in earnest during our alcohol bans but has continued thanks to the ongoing emphasis on health and well-being.
If you’re watching your alcohol intake, you will definitely be interested in the new accent on aperitivos, low or even no-alcohol drinks traditionally intended as a beverage “appetiser” – light, dry and refreshing. Starlino, a range of Italian aperitivos, embodies this drinking style: low in alcohol, it can be enjoyed neat, with a mixer like prosecco or tonic, or even in a tall glass with sparkling water.
What’s more, the beautiful bottle makes a decorative addition to any lunch table, and it works perfectly with whatever you’re serving – although, if you’re hoping to keep with tradition, pasta would be a perfect choice.
“Whatever you serve this summer, don’t be afraid to experiment – after all, half the fun in breaking open that bottle is discovering what new and fresh tastes there are to be enjoyed,” said Leibbrandt.