How to create knockout cocktails at home - tips from a pro bartender

ALSO READ: Great tips on how much booze to buy for a party

Finding cool solace from Summer’s consuming heat is a favourite South African pastime. And summer is all about chilled days spent outdoors and even more chilled beverages. When mirages of a tropical oasis begin to appear in the distance, it’s time to relax under an umbrella by the pool with a tall, cold drink at the ready (finding someone willing to fan you with palm fronds is always a bonus). 

Someone who knows how to put Summer (or any season for that matter) in a glass is AJ Snetler, aka “The Tattooed Bartender”. AJ is currently heading up Tobago’s Bar the trendy Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront bar (where, coincidentally, you’ll find a pool and refreshing drinks). 

He shares his tips for mixing your own Summer cocktails and seeking out the trendiest drinks when you’re out and about. 


On trend 

Summer is all about refreshment and relaxation. Cocktails that are low in alcohol and incorporate fresh flavours are really popular right now, according to Snetler. 

“We are seeing a lot of people ordering either a classic Mojito or an Aperol Spritz,” he says. “But it’s not just cocktails. A lot of people are enjoying cold, crisp white wine or bubbles.”  

Think fresh  This Summer, go green when it comes to ingredients. Think about incorporating mint, basil and celery into your cocktails. Citrus is also really great and can be used in many ways, so get your hands on fresh fruits like naartjies, oranges and limes.

Seasonal spirits  

In Spring and Summer, the best spirits to use in cocktails are fresh flavoured and best served cold. Think along the lines of Aperol, gin, and sparkling wine. Tequila and cachaça are also two of Snetler’s personal favourites for the warmer seasons. When the weather turns colder, you’ll want to serve darker, heavier, more spirit-forward cocktails. Twisted classics Snetler advises taking classics (which are often popular for good reason) and giving them a unique twist for any occasion. Shake up your brunch beverage, for example, by serving a Red Snapper instead of a Bloody Mary, which has been very successful at the hotel’s new Breakers Brunch. Essentially, you simply replace vodka with gin to give the classic a whole new dimension. But to take it a step further, he recommends using Gin Mare which is an attempt to distill and bottle the flavour of the Mediterranean. So, you’ll taste basil, thyme, rosemary and olive from the spirit alone ? far above and beyond the usual celery stick. 

Another good classic cocktail for summer is a Tequila Sunrise. But why not try it with grapefruit and soda for a lighter, refreshing twist? Pair this with some delish tapas and you have the perfect Summer sundowner session!

Day to night  

Think about what you’ll be serving your guests, and when you’ll be serving it. As a welcome drink, consider something light and easy to refresh your guests when they arrive. Again, an Aperol Spritz is very light, easy to make, and low in alcohol, so Snetler says it’s great to start out with. Around the dinner table, try a Mint Julep? a short drink perfect for warm evenings. Snetler explains that people generally prefer lighter spirits like gin in Summer, but the fact that it is made with bourbon means it is a bit heavier to serve with food, while light and refreshing enough for the warmer weather.

Diet drinks At this time of year, many people are focused on being health and are diet conscious. Anything made with vermouth is lower in alcohol and calories. One trend among the diet-conscious set is the reverse martini, which uses a double measure of vermouth and a single gin to change the dynamic of the drink. Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront’s current cocktail menu is tailored for Summer, with a focus on fun, tiki-style cocktails incorporating all of these trends. Snetler’s personal favourite is a Tropical Collins, a thirst quenching blend of passion fruit, soda, gin and fresh citrus. Whether you’re making your own refreshing beverages at home or heading to the cocktail bar to let someone else serve you, you now have all the right ingredients at hand to help you beat the heat.

ALSO READ: Bartending is fast becoming a recognised career path - here's where you can train