Nicholas Crouse with the cocktails he designed at the Beverley Hills Hotel in December. Crouse clinched third place in the ‘Oscars’ for mixologists, the Monin Cup, held in Paris, France, this week.
Durban - Durban mixologist Nicholas Crouse, from uMhlanga’s top cocktail bar Lucky Shaker, scooped third place at the global finals of the 2018 Monin Cup in Paris, France, on Thursday. 

The cup recognises the best bartenders from more than 60 countries. W hile Crouse was travelling home on Friday, the Independent on Saturday caught up with him shortly before he left, when he launched a new cocktail menu for uMhlanga’s five-star Beverly Hills Hotel.

Crouse was under no illusion as to what he was up against. And had been on a hectic schedule of preparation since winning the nationals in Joburg in November.

“There’s winners from around 60 other countries that are going to be there. But I have nothing to lose and aim to enjoy the experience.  The competition is aimed at young bar tenders and I’m just very lucky I got into the competition scene a number of years ago when I joined the team at Southern Sun and been doing competitions that long. And I’ve been to the globals before, back in 2015, so I have a wealth of experience. That’s my competitive edge.”

The theme was ‘mix your home’. 

“There’s so many cultures and flavours to choose from I thought the best thing to do was just to pick a few flavours from cultures I enjoy and combine those. I find savoury drinks very interesting and one of the ingredients that boosts that savoury taste is tomato, it brings out all the umami flavours. I’ve taken our local msogo , which is a relative of the tomato plant.  We also have a beautiful brandy-brandy making heritage, so I’m taking the KWV 15-year-old, which is my favourite brandy and one (brand) that has won best brandy in the world twice and I think it would be a shame not to showcase it.  Then there’s Fourth Rabbit, which is a new addition to South Africa’s repertoire where they make a mescal-style out of agave in the Karoo and it can stand up to really good mescals from Mexico,” he said.

Of course, coming from Durban, his drink is finished off with a curry leaf. “Just for that savoury aroma. You put it on top and when you smell the aroma of that curry leaf you can instantly start to taste those flavours.

“Growing up in Durban, I’ve always loved curry,” he said. “I think I eat more Indian food than I do Western food. I have a beautiful Tamil girlfriend who takes care of that. I know where to go for the best bunny chows, I know who mixes the best curry spices, and I’m even starting to learn how to make sweetmeats.”

He tells of becoming a mixologist. 

“My brother worked in the hospitality industry and when I was in high school I wanted to earn a bit of extra money and stay out of trouble, so I got a job initially in banqueting. I jumped behind the bar every chance I got because that’s what really interested me. My brother was pretty decent behind the bar but I had to be better than my older brother.  In terms of his craft, he pointed out that in Japan, cocktail-makers served a seven-year apprenticeship. 

"You spend just two or three years chipping or hand-carving ice.  You won’t be allowed to shake a drink that goes out to a guest for at least eight or nine years so you have the old masters who’ve got it down to a fine art.  What the Japanese do is they make the cocktails as good as they possibly can be. They use the best glassware, the best ice, the best spirits and the best techniques. Where they are not necessarily forefront of crazy creativity, their discipline is amazing”. 

He said people drink and eat with their eyes, and the glass that a cocktail is served in is crucial. 

“I love sitting at home and going through my collection of glassware and making myself drinks in fancy glasses on like a random Tuesday night when I’m off.  I have a brandy glass that is over 200 years old that my father drank from at his wedding, so on a special occasion I get excited about making myself a drink from that, because it adds to the experience.

So what next: “Well, I got my first tattoo just after my first global cocktail competition which is the Durban skyline inside a bar spoon (on his arm).  That was to say I want to do something for the bar tending community in Durban and I have to think about what I get should I win this one,” he laughed. 

“Although the Eiffel Tower does sort of look like a martini glass.”

Independent On Saturday