Drinking sustainably with mixologist Bheki Khumalo
Have you ever imagined enjoying, let alone tasting, a cocktail that lists chakalaka as one of its ingredients? Or how about yoghurt made from baobab fruit and bitters made from pineapple leaves? These are just some of the genius ways mixologist Bheki Khumalo transforms everyday, unconventional ingredients to make delicious cocktails with a unique twist. It’s been a whirlwind few years for Khumalo, who studied information systems management and worked as a barista before he found his love for mixology. With his out-of-the-box thinking, he worked his way up from being a bar-back to the group executive mixologist at Milk & Honey Group. He was also named one of the top 25 mixologists in the country. Today, you can find him challenging the norm as the head mixologist at Les Creatifs, a creative fine-dining experience in Bryanston.
So how does he make one of his mind blowing cocktails? It’s a thoughtful process of selective taste matching. Each element is thoroughly considered as he experiments with the combination and execution of ingredients .“A cocktail needs to have four things: your spirit, your flavour, your sweet, and your sour. First, I look at the spirit. What is its flavour profile? When you’re tasting it neat or when you’re nosing it, what are you picking up? Then from there, I break it down,” he explains. Khumalo picks a flavour to enhance that of the spirit, then finds the delicate balance between sweet and sour, and selects the perfect mixing technique to bring it all together. He even factors ice dilution into the final result and picks the garnish to seal the deal. But what makes Khumalo’s expertly crafted menus so special is their sustainability — a philosophy that has become his signature.
He believes in using ingredients to their fullest —prickly leaves and thick skins included — which means being in constant pursuit of creative, new ways to transform the various elements of organic ingredients. “I’m trying to push sustainability behind the bar, to a point that I don’t need a dustbin for anything but tins and plastic. In most bars, if you want a juice you only juice the fruit and thenthrow away everything else, but you don’t know you can cook it with a spice or you can ferment it. There are a lot of ways to execute an ingredient and make sure you use it to the fullest,” he says. If you want to be more sustainable in your own kitchen, take Khumalo’s advice: “Don’t throw away anything that is organic.” Try making a delicious syrup or a marmalade — anything is possible.
HINC ORIOR(from here we arise)
A spirit-forward cocktail which is bold and complex. It’s the cocktail that won me top spot in the Bacardi Varsity Cocktail Competition in 2017. It is best paired with desserts.
• 60ml Bacardi Reserva Ocho 8rum
• 20ml salted caramel syrup
• 15ml Martini Bianco vermouth
• 3-4 dashes of orange bitters
This is a stirred cocktail, served in a whisky glass with cubed ice, an orange peel and a rosemary sprig.
Quite savoury and spicy, perfect for a Sunday family lunch or braai. It complements most spicy foods.
• 50ml gin (preferably Tanqueray10 or Star of Bombay gin for their citrus heart)
• 20ml chakalaka water (So easy to prepare. Simply make your favourite chakalaka, then blend it. Put in a zip-lock bag and freeze. The next day, strain using a sieve or cheesecloth to separate the water and the rest of the chakalaka)
• 10ml Martini Bianco vermouth
• 20ml cucumber syrup
• 15ml fresh lime juice
This is a shaken cocktail best served neat in a chilled martini glass.
Tall, light, and refreshing for the hot season
• 50ml vodka
• 35ml ginger and carrot syrup
• 20ml orange juice
• 100ml soda water, to top up
This is a built-up drink served in a highball glass with ice cubes and a fresh lemon slice as a garnish