Africa boasts an incredible array of fruits, herbs and spices that are perfectly suited to cocktail making. While a high-income approach to cocktail making typically requires a wide variety of carefully branded and marketed liquors and liquors—most of which have to be imported into Africa—our approach at African Epicure is to work with what we can easily acquire all over the continent. We begin from a basic clear and largely flavorless alcohol: a vodka or a rum, and build from there.
The vodkas and rums that are available to everyone are often rather painful to drink straight. In fact, they are often rough enough that they’re hard to mask with any delicate mixer if added to a cocktail directly. This is why we start with infusions. Infusing clear vodkas and rums is quite simple and involves little more than cutting fruits, herbs and spices into small enough pieces that you can get them through the neck of a bottle. It helps to know how much of an ingredient to add to a liter of alcohol and it helps to know how long your infusion will need to sit before all of the flavor has entered the alcohol; but it’s not an exact science and experimenting is fun.
We’ve tried infusing vodkas and rums with a couple dozen different things and share our experience (along with our favorite ratios and time frames) at the beginning of the cocktails recipe section, here.
Infusions can be excellent on their own—especially if you have acquired very flavorful fruits—but they can really shine in cocktails that incorporate fresh juices or flavored syrups. Remember that when using juice in a cocktail, you want to prepare the juice at the last possible moment; it will taste massively better if it is fresh and no matter what the fruit, you do not need to sugar your juice. If you like sweet things, skip ahead to the syrups section and learn to deliver your sugar in a sophisticated fashion.
Become an African bartender and use what you find locally in your cocktails. Here are some basic recipes and guidelines for getting started in your kitchen.