With summer around the corner, we ask some of SA’s top bartenders for their tips and tricks to create killer jam jar cocktails at home.

With summer around the corner, we ask some of SA’s top bartenders for their tips and tricks to create killer jam jar cocktails at home.

Jam jars are cheerful cocktails that you make, literally, in jam jars. They’re pretty straightforward, usually involving some booze, mixer and fresh fruit, and livened up with umbrellas and pretty straws (biodegradable or reusable, please). These fun libations are perfect for South Africa’s summery silly season, being both festive and refreshing. 

We chatted to three award-winning bartenders from the country’s favourite bars to find out how to up our jam-jar game: Brent Perremore from Art of Duplicity, Peter Good from Smoking Kills and Tanealé van der Merwe from Niks Bar.

What’s the most important thing to know when creating jam-jar cocktails for a party? 

Brent: Use nice new jars i.e. Consol jars. They’ve got to look the part. Don’t use ex mayonnaise or beetroot jars etc. Sometimes no matter how clean, they impart [the] flavour and smell of the previous contents.

Peter: Two things: Firstly: fruit!!! Fresh, fresh fruit. Making a cocktail is like making food, the better ingredients you have, the better the cocktail will be. Secondly, for beginners, use a somewhat neutral alcohol like a vodka, gin or white rum to really bring out the flavours of the fruits, this way you’re guaranteed to make something simple and delicious. For the more advanced people out there, start to look into flavour notes of more ‘complex’ spirits like scotch, aged brandy, dark rum. 

Tanealé: The most important thing to remember when creating any beverage concoction is that too much of anything is a bad thing. Specifically with jam jars you need to make sure you have justenough of everything; for example an excessive amount of alcohol specifically can turn anyone away. 

Any other good tips and tricks? 

Brent: If adding mint or herbs to the cocktail, never leave them sitting in the jar with the liquids too long as they tend to go brown. Add those just before adding ice and shaking.

Peter: Make it look nice; use fresh and good looking mint, or a beautifully sliced fresh looking slice of fruit. Putting effort into the visual aspect will make your drink taste and smell 100 times better. Also, making drinks is ALL about balance; you never want anything too, well, anything really. A drink that is too strong is AS bad a drink that is too weak, equally with it being too sour or sweet.

Tanealé: Syrups and citrus are an easy solution when creating jam jars. Both elements can liven up your jar quite easily [and both] are easily accessible. Many retail stores offer a variety of syrups or they can easily be made at home. Never forget about the garnish in your drinks; as well as making them look good for Instagram, it also adds small flavour profiles. You want to enhance what’s already existing and not try put a fruit salad into your jam jar – less is more.

What prep can you do in advance? 

Brent: I personally like to keep it as simple as possible. I just add jams, marmalades or compote directly instead of syrups.

Peter: I’m all about maximising flavours of what you have [like a fruit syrup for a jam jar]. Cut your fruit up into small pieces and cover in sugar for two or three days. The dry sugar will start to absorb the liquid from the fruit. Then you dilute into a syrup, and then strain the pulp out.

Infusing alcohol is always a great way to get sometimes more easy-going flavours. For example, [infuse] gin and rosemary, rum and pineapple, and vodka and, literally, anything. This is a GREAT way to add complexity to your drink without having overpowering flavours.

Tanealé: [Prep] your jam jar 30 minutes prior to your party starting, this is of course without dilution (traditionally jam jars have a lot of ice, which will provide you with more than enough dilution). 

Syrups are relatively easy to make even when adding additional elements such as a herb or spice. One can use the simple ratio of 1 part sugar to 1 part water and then adding botanicals as you see fit – just ensure that your botanicals in your syrup do not overpower everything. Again everything in moderation.

What’s your go-to recipe for a sure-fire crowd-pleaser? 

Brent: We used to make one at Asoka that I really liked and guests seemed to like too. 

50 ml Southern Comfort
2 heaped teaspoons apricot jam
25 ml lemon juice
8–10 mint leaves, with sprig for garnish

Add ingredients to jar then fill with crushed ice. Screw the lid on and shake well until jam is dissolved. Remove lid and top with crushed ice then garnish with mint sprig and insert straw (bamboo of course). 

It’s simple but really tasty and refreshing.

Peter: Definitely try infuse bourbon with chargrilled peaches. Once done, strain the peaches out and blend them into a puree (strain very well), then do this:

2 parts chargrilled-peach infused bourbon 
1 part lemon juice
1 part chargrilled-peach puree 
½ part sugar syrup (made at a 1:1 ratio)
2 dashes bitters

Add ingredients to jam jar with ice. Shake with lid on, then top with ice and soda or ginger ale.

Or something you CANNOT beat is this little guy:

4 muddled raspberries
2 parts nice punchy craft gin, like Ginologist, Inverroche or even Malfy citrus
1 part lemon juice
½ part cold-infused raspberry syrup
5 ml yellow Chartreuse (or Campari, Benedictine or Aperol, just something to give it a little complexity)

Add ingredients to jam jar with ice. Shake with lid on, then top with ice and soda.

Tanealé: A rum jam jar with some grapefruit juice and a cheeky little cinnamon syrup topped with soda water, garnished with a grapefruit peel and cinnamon stick. 

For me this ticks all of the boxes. It can be light, easy breezy and refreshing – definitely something that can be drunk throughout the day or night. 

Only defect is if someone doesn’t like cinnamon, but this can always be substituted by a stock standard sugar syrup. This great thing about this jam jar is that anyone can make it, all ingredients are readily available.

This post first appeared on Food24 on 16 Oct 2020