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Durban is home to one of the country’s top cocktail artists and we were lucky enough to catch up with him at one of the city’s favourite new hangouts in Umhlanga, Harry’s Bar. Lets Play with Cocktail Legend ‘H’

If you were around in the ‘80s you will definitely remember the movie Cocktail where Tom Cruise wowed us with not only his gorgeous smile but also his amazing flaring skills. But cocktail making has moved beyond a deft hand motion and has become somewhat of an art. 

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“H” as he is fondly known in the industry began his career in the hospitality sector in 1997. Across three continents and one sea, he honed his craft and grew his love. What began as a part time endeavour to earn extra money as a student developed into a conscious career choice.

After graduating from the University of Natal with a B.Comm degree with a Business Information Systems major, H was qualified for the beginning of a life in commerce. However, armed with his degree he took off to explore the world and from 2001-2003 spent his time working in London at the Oxo Tower, not in business but rather as a server and this was when he knew this was the industry for him. He still recalls his time here with great fondness and says that the most beautiful sunsets, ever, were from the 8th floor over the South Bank of the Thames with the London skyline as a backdrop.

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From 2004-2006 he enjoyed the splendour of Dubai and discovered the majesty of North Indian Silver Service at the legendary Asha’s Restaurant. It was here that he learnt how to cook Indian food and says that the best achievement of his time in Dubai, was coming home and cooking for his late gran and watching her face as she enjoyed something HE had made for HER. He especially enjoyed learning how different ethnic groups within the same culture varied in their eating habits and he had a great teacher in the Head chef who was a direct descendant of chefs who cooked for the Mogul dynasty of India.

“H” then decided that he would swap his landlegs for a spot at sea, so he cruised the Caribbean in 2007 for a few months as a Team Waiter, on a Carnival Cruise Liner, but soon realised he missed home.

It was on his return that providence intervened and Harvey’s opened their doors for the first time in 2008. The style of service and the imaginative menu renewed his spirit and energy for the industry he loved so much. Over the next five years “H” would grow through the ranks and eventually become general manager.

 “ The bartender has Jedi powers, only a bartender can change your mind. Where you come with one idea but he gets you to choose something else.”

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Enter World Class Cocktail programme under the Diageo brand. A competition which goes in pursuit of the most imaginative or creative cocktail made by an exceptional bar tender in the country who then goes on to compete internationally. “H” entered twice, once in 2012, losing out to Nick Koumbarakis of The Orphanage in Cape Town who also won the Bacardi legacy in the same year. And again in 2013, a year where he sacrificed his career growth to enter and concentrate just on the competition. But once again, it was not to be, he came second, this time losing to Brent Perrymore also of The Orphanage.

It was after the competition that Brandhouse, the South African distributor for Diageo product approached him to be Brand Ambassador for the reserve portfolio which includes Ciroc Vodka, Tanqueray and Don Julio tequila. He would also manage the World Class programme in KZN. This was an exciting opportunity and H could not turn it down.

Cocktail Quickies with ‘H’

1. What makes a great cocktail?

Aroma, balance of flavours, ambience, expression of spirit and the bartender 

2. Your favourite cocktail?

Depends on mood and time of day, but currently enjoying a twist on the “Whisky Sour” with Singleton Tailfire of course, containing raspberry jam and lemon juice.                                                                   

3. Do you notice more males drinking cocktails?

 Yes, but that is changing with males now beginning to enjoy well-made cocktails, though Durban is a little slower to the trend than Cape Town. 

4. When did you become interested in cocktail making?

2012, when the World Class competition became a reality. 

5. What makes a cocktail interesting?

Ambience, the bartenders approach and the story behind it. 

6. How is SA positioned in terms of cocktail making?

There are a few limitations, but even with those, we are right up there. Regionally, I see Cape Town first, then Durban followed by Johannesburg.

 THE WORLD CLASS PROGRAM:

Is a cocktail programme established to promote SA bars and bar tenders to discerning consumers worldwide and is the most anticipated event on the bar industry calendar year on year, none more so than 2015, as SA will be hosting the global finals which will see top bars delivering fine drinking experiences to their guests. 

SELECTION PROCESS:

Outlets are selected based on their current cocktail program and their potential to improve to be one of the best. FIFTEEN key luxury outlets are chosen through joint partner negotiation per region, FOURTY FIVE nationally. 

How it works:

Each region conducts 3 training workshops for the year. Each workshop has a theme and a category and cocktails need to be presented by entrants based on the criteria. There is also a blind taste test and a theory section. Over the period of workshops the top 2 participants will be selected as regional winners. These 6 regional winners then go through to the national finals, which are held in each region on a rotational basis.

The Finals:

2015 National finals are in Gauteng in June and the global championship takes place in Cape Town in September.

The Judges:

For the national finals, previous judges have included Peter Goffe Wood, Travis Kuhn, owner of Pure Bar Studios, Tim Etherington Judge who represents WorldClass on a global scale and Tim Phillips, the global winner from 2012.

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