With stints at the Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Twankey Bar and Dropkick Murphy’s, Bartender AJ Snetler has joined the team at Tobago’s Restaurant, Bar and Terrace at the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront. He shares his thoughts on mixology trends, his favourite cocktail, and artisanal gin:
What made you decide to become a bartender? There are a lot of reasons. But the main reason is that I have always been very interested in working with food and people. That’s why many of my drinks have a culinary twist.
What is your favourite cocktail to make and why? There are too many, but one of my absolute favourites would have to be a classic Negroni. I love very straightforward cocktails where you can really focus on the right balance and getting the perfect flavours out of the drink.
What mixology trend are you most excited about right now? The industry in South Africa in general is rapidly changing and growing. Lots of people are focused on flaring, which is a cool way of showcasing your skills. Sustainability is also a major trend locally. Travis Kuhn was recently named South Africa’s best bartender in the Diageo World Class bartending finals and will now be representing his country in Berlin. He came up with a really great sustainable concept partnering with The Haven Shelter, training people to make cocktail ingredients so bartenders can go to them as suppliers.
What are some of the modern cocktail trends that you wish would die off? I don’t think there’s anything that really needs to go, but there is a lot that needs to be celebrated more. Gin has been a massive trend for a while, so I think it’s time we focused on some other great spirits. We have some beautiful brandies and whiskies that deserve the spotlight. There are also some amazing tequilas out there. Locally, there’s a Karoo agave spirit called The 4th Rabbit which is very exciting. There are lots of cool things coming out!
What are the staples in your cocktail-making kit? I love to use anything fresh. For a while now, the whole foraging trend has been an exciting part of bartending ‒ using local fynbos and other ingredients creatively. I also like to explore my culinary interests, using ingredients like red peppers and coriander.
What are the staple ingredients in any cocktail bar? Vermouth and good sherry, definitely. And you have to have good tequila.
What are some of the most unusual ingredients that you have used in a drink? Grasshoppers and worm salt. I think those would take the top two spots. In Mexico, they dehydrate worms and mix them with spices and chilli and serve with a slice of orange with mezcal (the smokier cousin of tequila). I also used the grasshoppers as a garnish once in a similar way. You just grind them up and mix them with spices.
What are you most excited about when it comes to joining the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront team?Absolutely everything. I met the guys and fell in love with the team and the venue, which is just so beautiful. It really is the best location in Cape Town. It’s a very exciting summer season to look forward to, we have some exciting things planned including the launch of the new menu, it is going to be fantastic.