21 Sep 2019
SA champ bartender creates visionary product to uplift local communities

Master bartender Owen O’Reilly – South African national title holder of the Diageo World Class Cocktail Competition – created a unique cocktail for the global event. He tells me all about it in this exclusive interview.

What exactly is Vuka?

Vuka is [a canned] cocktail that I created for the Ketel One Community Challenge, which we will be presenting tomorrow at the Nolet Distillery – where Ketel One is made – in Schiedam. 

WATCH this video from the 2018 World Class Ketel One Community Challenge

What does ‘Vuka’ mean?

The name Vuka means to rise or to wake, and that’s from Xhosa. The reason for that is that the cocktail’s made to help uplift struggling communities. 

Cool – how will it do that?

The idea with Vuka is to live on past the competition, so it’s not just going to be for competition. I can eventually put [the cans] on the shelves, and push them on to a global market. The proceeds of each can sold will then be put aside to go to a cause. That’s why the tagline is ‘Made in South Africa, made to uplift’. 

You were challenged to draw on your community and use local, sustainable ingredients, right? So what did you choose? 

We got three options to make a twist on. I went with the Espresso Martini, but I chose rooibos as the main ingredient instead. It’s organically sourced from local farmers, and also a truly South African product that only grows in the Western Cape. I went out to the farm, and checked it out, so I’m getting involved with all the local peeps as well. I also got involved with the Rooibos Tea Council in South Africa, which is quite involved in a couple of charities. They give back to the Khoisan community every year. 

© Rudi de Vos

The other ingredients in there are also very sustainable. I’m using waste – expired stout beer – to make my syrup with, without adding any [precious] water. Then I use leftover coffee grinds from restaurants and bars, and cocoa nibs, also organically farmed in SA. Ja, and then offcuts of oranges, so there are a lot of waste products that I use for the syrup. 

That syrup and the tea go into a can as a non-alcoholic [drink], so it’s accessible to everyone. [For those who do drink alcohol] Ketel One Vodka is the suggested spirit to serve it with. 

Where exactly did you source it all from?

The ingredients mostly come from the Clanwilliam side … Porterville, and the tea communities out on the West Coast. Then all the other ingredients I source where I can, so I go to everyone who has waste products and I take from them.

© Rudi de Vos

What’s the first cause that you will support?

The first community problem that we’re getting involved with is the Wuppertal disaster – the fire that broke out there over New Year last year. They are in need of equipment and books and stationery for schools, and food and clothing and things like that. 

Great! Where will the public be able to buy Vuka?

It’s already in certain bars, like Orphanage and The House of Machines, for instance. I’ll be canning about 1,000 more when I’m back – in fact, that’s already in progress – and they’ll be put into more bars and restaurants. Then after we’ve got some traction, we’ll can a couple more and start pushing them into some online and retail shops. So quite a lot of work ahead, but Vuka should be available in shops, sort of towards the end of the year, I think. 

© Rudi de Vos

O’Reilly is currently representing South Africa at the Diageo World Class Cocktail Competition in The Netherlands and Scotland. Tune into the livestream below – he’ll be presenting his Ketel One Community Challenge to the judges on Sunday 22 September 2019.


You may also

Enjoy Reading