Monday, September 6, 2010

Featured Bartender - Anil Sabharwal

Personal Info:

Name: Anil Sabharwal

Age: 31

Years behind the bar: 11

Notable Competition results/Awards:

Havana Club flair UK Championship 2004 – 1st

Santa Fe best bartender competition 2004 – 2nd

Roadhouse UK finals 2004 – 6th

SA Nationals flair 2007 – 2nd

SA Nationals flair 2008 – 2nd

Skyy Vodka Global Flair Challenge 2008 SA – 1st

Skyy Vodka Global Challange 2008 International Final – 6th

King of Africa 2008 – 1st

News Cafe Menlyn 2008 Flair – 1st

Roadhouse World Flair Challenge Finals – 22nd

SA Nationals Flair 2009 – 3rd

Skyy Vodka Global Challange 2009 – 3rd

News Cafe Menlyn 2009 Flair – 1st

Cape Flair Society Ambassador, Cape Town South Africa

Short Bio:


Beer – Corona with a fresh wedge of lime, or Hoegarden

Wine – any tasty fully body red will do me

Spirit – depends on my mood, but a good tequila does get me excited!

Cocktail – Seem to have developed a new love for straight up margarita recently...

Bar – Asoka, Tequila Town, Fiction, The Assembly

Restaurant – Anywhere that does a good steak or ribs has my vote

City – well Cape town defiantly, London and Monte Carlo are in my top 3

Film – Shawshank Redemption and Old School

Book – Any good cocktail book that can hold my interest for more than 5 min

Q & A

How did you get started in bartending?

Needed to get a job, any job, so i ended up collecting glasses in a night club for a while till they let me behind the bar.

You work for Shaker now in a training and events based role. What are some of the good/bad points of this vs regular bartending?

Well the first good point is that I’m the boss, so everything i did not like about the bar industry from drinks recipes to what products I use, I have full control over. I also love the fact that i get to pass on all the information and experiences i have had over the years to future bartenders who attend our courses.

I guess the bad points are that you sometimes not only have to work 9 – 5 but sometimes all night on the same day. I guess the only other bad thing is that I don’t have as much time to practice now that I run the business to when I was just bartending.

What are some trends you're noticing in the cocktail world?

Everyone seems to be going the MM (molecular mixoligy) vibe at the moment, which looks great and is very impressive but is not always practical. I feel drink trends have not changed that much in the past 10 years, with people still enjoying simple light and fresh drinks, and bartenders taking some of the old school classic cocktails and giving them a modern twist.

Any pet peeves about bartenders you’d like to share?

Bartenders who don’t put things back where they found it or don’t clean up after themselves tend to wind me up. Also, I think I have a bit of an OCD thing when it comes to venues back bars displays. I sometimes want to jump behind the bar and start straightening the bottles and facing all the pourers the same way...

Have you ever taken any courses/been on any formal drinks related training? Is this a worthwhile path for bartenders to follow?

I only ever got trained at the venues i worked in, which was great, but did not really help my general bar knowledge. I have trained some bartenders who have been working the bar for a while and will still learn things that they did not even think of. I feel to get formal training is always worthwhile cause it improves your knowledge, service and attitude in the industry, which in turn will make you more money

If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?

Bartending is not rocket science. 4 things make a good bartender

1. A good personality – being able to talk to strangers on a daily basis

2. Good memory – being able to remember orders and recipes

3. Common sense – (is not that common so you can argue with me on this one)

4. Being fast – the faster you serve, the more people you serve, the more people you serve, the more money you make.

What inspires you / goes into creating a cocktail for you?

Depends, with my job now i am always given tasks of creating new cocktails so i try to meet the clients need even though i get some random and sometimes impossible requests.

What is your favourite mixology resource?

I love to bounce ideas of my great staff both here and in the UK.

If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?

Parking your car for ya!!! Hahahahahah. I did computers when i was at school so i’m sure i would of gone that route.

Over the years you’ve built up a name for yourself as one of SA’s top flair bartenders but what is your take on the Classic/Mixo vs Flair division that seems to exist?

I think even though that most hard core mixologist’s won’t admit it, they all like the attraction of flair, but they can’t be bothered to practice the long hours it takes to get good. You can wake up the morning of a cocktail competition with a drink recipe, use it and win! The same can’t be said about flair competitions. You need to practice!!!

Do you think it exists outside of competitions?

It does, but it shouldn’t. Some of the best bartenders i have met over the years have had a combination of good drink skills and are entertaining behind the bar.

Do you think the two should be more integrated?

In competitions? Yes! Most flair bartenders i have met from travelling round the world could not even make u a proper gin and tonic!

Any preferences between the two?

Not really

Ok, you’re fairly well travelled as far as South African bartenders go... Tell us about some of your international experiences? I heard you did Nigeria recently and of course the Roadhouse and Skyy comps?

The Road House in Covent Garden , London was epic. It is the biggest comp in the northern hemisphere, With 10,000 pounds for the winner. The best of the best compete so i was really happy to be there!!! The Skyy Vodka Comp in Monte Carlo was really cool. They looked after us like rock stars, limo from the airport, 5 star hotel, free drinks & food and a trip in a Ferrari round the Monte Carlo F1 track!! Very cool!!!

How does the standard of competitions differ in other countries?

They are very well organised because the people who are doing it treat it like a business. They want to make sure the competitors and sponsors are happy. This will attract more competitors and more sponsors which makes the events bigger and better

What is the perception of South African bartenders overseas? Do they even know we make cocktails down here?

Amarula and The World Cup seemed to be the main talking points when i tell people where i am living. I think most bartenders are not too sure what goes on in SA. They probably thing we use elephants as our back bar!

Can you give us the recipe for one of your favourite cocktails?

Hops, water & barley = BEER ( the best cocktail in the world)

Cool thanks Anil...appreciate you taking the time to do this.

Any parting words?

If life chucks you a bottle, FLAIR!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Boat Drinks, Tiki and the Anejo Highball...

I love gangster movies, always have.

From the timelessness of The Godfather to the brash confidence of Pulp Fiction, these movies and many others make up much of my personal Top Movies List but I also have a great fondness for the style of crime film that doesn’t take itself too seriously – that twinkle of humour that makes them less real than their gritty, hard-nosed relations but so much more fun! One of my favourites (and criminally under-rated in my opinion) is Things to Do in Denver When you’re Dead (1995), a not too serious but charmingly enjoyable movie with a great cast.

Now what does all of this movie stuff have to do with drinking? Well, not that much to be honest, but something that has always stayed with me from Things to do... is the idea of “Boat Drinks”. I have no idea if this has any basis in real life (so little in Hollywood ever does) but the concept is one we can all appreciate. In the film the characters use the term “Boat Drinks” as a fond farewell and during the course of the movie, Andy Garcia explains to us that in the “old days” Boat Drinks was a common toast in prison, a wish for an ideal. That at the end of a long, bad life you’d be sitting on a cabin cruiser somewhere in the Florida Keys having “Boat Drinks”.

Now I love this idea – to wish someone to be free of all their troubles and have nothing more pressing to do than sit on a boat with their friends, with the sun on their backs and a drink in their hands, it’s the most simple and timeless of good wishes. Kind of like a mobster version of An Old Irish Blessing.

But what exactly are “Boat Drinks”? Well the Google machine tells me that they’re often seen as essentially the same as Tiki Cocktails, a style of faux-Polynesian, over the top tropical drink made popular by guys like Trader Vic and Don the Beachcomber in the 1930’s and currently a very popular addition to cocktail menus in some of the world’s best bars. This revival has been lead by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, one of the leading modern experts on both the drinks and the culture and a good place to start if you’re at all interested in Tiki.

Tiki Cocktails are usually Rum based, fruity and very strong but the thing about them is that they are also, usually, amazingly complex. Now unless you were a REALLY successful criminal and could afford your own personal bartender on your little boat out there in the Keys, I wouldn’t want to be slaving for hours making syrups with obscure ingredients and juicing mountains of fresh fruit (just a few of the requisites for good Tiki drinks). I want to relax with a simple but good drink!

So let’s take a look at our “Boat Drinks” style and come up with something a little easier!

We’ll stay with Rum as our base spirit – we are on a boat in the Florida Keys so it’s the natural choice. We want something with a lot of flavour but not too dark and heavy, a Cuban Añejo will be perfect. Our boat drink needs to be a little more complex and a bit stronger than a simple Spirit/Mix combo so we’ll add a bit of sweetness with some Orange Curacao (Grand Marnier will be fine) and balance that out with some fresh lime juice.

Now this brings us to an exceptionally important point and one that South African’s in particular seem to have a lot of trouble understanding:

Fresh Lime Juice and Lime Cordial are not interchangeable.


One is sweet the other is sour and therefore they do completely different things to a drink. Substituting Lime Cordial will result in a drink that is unbalanced and far too sweet as well as losing the “brightness” that fresh citrus brings to a drink. Ok, rant over – back to our drink!

We need to lengthen this drink a little and the perfect pairing to a good rum is a good ginger beer.

There are many good brands available on the market so find one that suits your taste. Spicy and powerful are usually good with the powerful flavours of Rum and we’ll compliment this with a bit more spice from the Caribbean, a couple of dashes of Angostura Bitters.

Añejo Highball

Adapted from a recipe by Dale de Groff (2000)

45ml Havana Club Anejo Reserva

15ml Grand Marnier

15ml Fresh Lime Juice

2 Dash Angostura Bitters

Top Ginger Beer

Method: Build ingredients over ice, stir and serve.

Glass: Highball/Collins

Garnish: Fresh lime wedge

So there you go. The perfect drink to relax with, easy to make and great to drink as the sun goes down on your boat, wherever or whatever that may be.

Boat Drinks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

So much Gin, so little time...

So the pace has been picking up in the G'Vine GCP 2010 with all the finalists announced and only a month to go before we all get together in Cognac for a week of frighteningly tough challenges. Phil Duff took a certain sadistic pleasure I'm sure, in sending out The Final Info Pack (and yes those capital letters were intended), a briefing of epic proportions that, in addition to dispelling any ideas we might have had about a relaxing holiday in the French countryside, explained in minute detail exactly how difficult this competition actually is!

The challenges are all encompassing, from the more technical side of bartending with speed and accuracy rounds through to written knowledge exams and (my personal nemesis) blind tasting and nosing! All of this leads up to the final night in Paris where we each customise and man our own Gin Bar at the inaugural G'Vine Spring Ball where the guests themselves will be the judges, determining the winner by how well they support our individual bars.

The good side however (not that drinking gin in France really has a bad side) is that no matter what happens with the competition it looks like we'll have a great time out there and learn more about Gin than any sane (or sober) person should ever know! It looks like we've got a great bunch of guys together for the finals and we've been chatting amongst ourselves with a couple of nice ideas to make the trip even more memorable.

We'll also be joined by a couple of big names such as Gary Regan, who will be our coach for the duration of the competition and the entire week will be live blogged and Tweeted by Darcy O'Neil and Jay Hepburn on their respective sites.

All in all it's shaping up to be a great week but there is much work to be done over the upcoming month...Just decided on a theme that's got me quite excited so I'm off to put some thought into that!

The Finalists of the 2010 G'Vine Gin Connoisseurs Program

Brian Mac Gregor-USA

Damien Aries-France
Mohamed Falil din Jayah-UAE
Martin Lange-Australia
Nick Nemeth-Canada
Oron Lerner-Israel
Javier Bravo-Ireland
Rob Poulter-UK
Ryan Duvenage-South Africa
Spyros Patsialos-Greece
Stefanos Paraskevoudis-Greece
Stephan Hinz-Germany

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Featured Bartender: Michael Stephenson

Personal Info:

Name: Michael Stephenson

Age: 26

Years behind the bar: 9

Notable Competition results/Awards: Can't really remember them all...every comp is usually followed by a big party and memory loss! But there was that time I went to Vegas, I think I came 2nd at the last KOA and many top 3 finishes in the Nationals & Menlyn Flair comps.

Short Bio: I started out as a young and naive bartender, behind the bar at Monkey Bar, in Durban and progressed through a few bars and clubs before moving to Jozi. A 18 month stint for Fournews Developments (News Cafe head office) eventually lead me to brandhouse where I've been for the last 3 and a half years.


Beer? Heineken, but I recently tried Old Speckled Hen in London which was quite memorable.

Wine? Red...preferably Merlot or Shiraz.

Spirit? How can I choose only one! Just acquired a bottle of Zacapa 23 rum which is rather special but I have also grown very fond of Whisky, I have a special place for Gin, a great respect for Tequila and lots of memorable nights from Vodka.

Cocktail? A Don Julio Old Fashioned but I also struggle to turn down a good Negroni or a well made G&T.

Bar? De Dokter in Amsterdam was quite special.

Restaurant? Central Grill in Johannesburg, they do the most awesome hand-cut chips and onion rings!

City? Amsterdam is really cool but SA is still an awesome place to be.

Film? Garden State

Book? I'm a Bond fan so I have to put Casino Royale in but The Big Fat Duck cookbook is just amazing!

Singer/band? Arctic Monkeys

Q & A

How did you get started in bartending? I originally started as a means to put my new found hobby of flairing into practice but I suppose I also needed to make some money. I just went for and applied at the bar where my mate Luke was working.

You work for Brandhouse now as a commercial mixologist/brand representative. What are some of the good/bad points of this vs regular bartending?

The pros are that there is loads of networking to be done and it's great to be a part of the change in the way this industry works and the way it's perceived. I also get to work with some of the best brands in the world and help influence the trends in our drinking culture. There are some really cool perks that come with working for the brands as well as some sort of financial security and opportunity for growth within the companies but at the end of the day you really have to enjoy what you're doing otherwise it's just as boring as anything else. The cons are that I don't really get to spend any time behind the bar making drinks! There is always so much work to do, that I very rarely get to mix some drinks and try out ideas.

The Bols Bartending Academy

What are some trends you're noticing in the cocktail world?

Globally, "Craft Cocktails" are making a name for themselves at the moment. Basically, bartenders are putting in more effort to do the simple things properly, whether it's making your own bitters for the perfect Old Fashioned or making ice spheres in order to control the dilution in your Single Malt. Homemade ingredients on concise cocktail menus with a good balance of drinks and attention to detail is definately the way it's going at the moment.

Locally, it's still a bit bleak. The majority of the public haven't really gotten over the disco drink phase yet and for those who have it's incredibly difficult for them to find somewhere reliable and consistent enough to give them what they need. Hopefully the World Cup will show bars and locals how far behind they are, because we really should be up there with the best of them.

Any pet peeves about bartenders you’d like to share?

A lack of interest and enthusiasm always gets under my skin. Cleanliness and efficiency are also vital and are normally the most noticable when they are lacking.

Have you ever taken any courses/been on any formal drinks related training? Is this a worthwhile path for bartenders to follow?

I've done a couple, from the basic bar course (run by the woman who learnt how to bartend from the wrong side of the bar, whilst polishing off 6 G&T's a night as a regular at the local Keg) to some sessions with the likes of The Bartenders Workshop, Spike Marchant, Charles Vexenat, Phillip Duff, The College of Whisky, Barry Wilson, Phil Keane etc. I suppose that it's essential to get the basics down as they are what you're always going to fall back on when your night starts to get a bit crazy. As for the rest, product knowledge sessions are always interesting, but I would recommend having a solid grasp of the spirit category being presented as sometimes what brands say can be taken with a pinch of salt! Any time you can spend with international bartenders is always worthwhile.

If you could offer a couple of short pieces of advice to the average bartender, what would they be?

Having a passion for what you do will only make everything so much more enjoyable, so take the time to make an effort and set some standards that you can aspire to so you know you're on the right track. Research and a thorough understanding of everything in your bar is a great way to set yourself apart so don't ever stop learning.

What inspires you / goes into creating a cocktail for you?

I have a love for flavour and sometimes it just takes a new tasting that note I come across, a new product, fresh fruit from the change in season or just something I read to set me off. From there it's normally all about getting a feel for the spirit and what kind of drink it would suit and then onto what will compliment that spirit and really make it shine. I like to taste the base spirit in my drinks so they generally tend to be a bit stonger but sometimes a refreshing drink is just what the situation calls for so fresh fruit and a splash of soda are needed.

The Bols Tasting Labs

What is your favourite mixology resource?

I have always been able to turn to the Diffordsguide in times of need as there is bound to be something in there that sets the imagination off. The internet is also an incredible tool for those in need of inspiration or even just to see what everyone else around the world is up to. I quite like as they update on many different drinks blogs.

If you weren't in the drinks industry, what do you think you would be doing now?

Working in the world of IT...or maybe a music journalist?

Over the years you’ve built up a name for yourself as one of SA’s top flair bartenders but you’re one of the few that is consistently successful in both flair and classic/mixology.

Any preferences between the two?

Flair is always fun and it give me the opportunity (and the privilege) to get up in front of a crowd and put the many hours of practice into effect. I will eventually stop competing but I will always love making great drinks! The mixology side just enables me to express a completely different style of creativity.

Ok, on to your Amsterdam experience. Tell us a bit about the competition?

Bols have an annual competition that they run called the Bols Around the World Competition which requires competitors from each continent to enter a recipe for a drink onto a website with a photo of the drink and some other information which is then used to by the judge for that specific continent to determine the finalist that will go to the Global Shake-Off in Amsterdam. This year the theme was "Shaking Twenties" and was based around the 1920's with Prohibition and Jazz playing a central role. For the finals 6 competitors (one from each continent) had a shake-off for the opportunity to go into the Bols development lab and make their own liqueur! Bols would then send the winner a case of that liqueur every month for a year!

How was the standard of the other competitors?

I was very impressed by the other competitors' level of skill as well as their knowledge. They were all a great bunch of guys who just helped make it such an awesome competition. Well done to Timo Jaanse who was crowned the winner!

Timo Jaanse being crowned winner of the Bols Around the World 2010 competition

I know they had some top notch international judges like Stanislav Vadrna, Hidetsugu Ueno and Dave Wondrich. What was it like hanging out and drinking with those guys?

Meeting people like them and getting to have a couple drinks and some great conversations (and some even better laughs) was so much more amazing than I had imagined it could be. It was an honour and a privilege to spend time with such awesome people and one that will not be soon forgotten.

Mike with some of the Bartenders and Judges in the Bols Lab

What is the perception of South African bartenders overseas? Do they even know we make cocktails down here?

I didn't find anyone that was surprised that we can make a decent drink, which is nice to know! I think that the bartending community is quite down to earth, so they don't really judge what they don't know. I did meet a couple South Africans over there, so I think they've helped spread the word.

Can you give us the recipe for your cocktail?

The Satchmo Standard

37.5ml Tanqueray Gin

20ml Bols Raspberry Liqueur

10ml Campari

1 Barspoon Bols Apricot Brandy Liqueur

1/4 Barspoon Apricot Jam

5 Drops Orange Bitters

Shake all ingredients with ice and fine strain into a chilled coupette glass.

Garnish with a orange zest and two raspberries on a toothpick.

Cool thanks Mike...appreciate you taking the time to do this.

Any parting words?

Thanks for asking me to do this interview....and for being my Guinea-pig tasting my recipe!