Nocturnal, with a measure of Goth, one part passion, one part sophistication and a dash of sensuality, perfectly blended to give off an air of dark mystery, may be a fitting way to describe Shaz Dorfling, Durban’s cocktail bartender who’s made it into the finals of a global cocktail competition.
Hollywood’s Golden Age might well have sparked the popularity of cocktails – think back to the bow-tied bartender in Casablanca whipping up a French 75, or how suave James Bond made ordering a Vodka Martini – shaken, not stirred – an act of stylish sophistication. Ditto the yummy Don Draper in the TV series Mad Men who resurrected the popularity of his favourite cocktail – the Old Fashioned – making it one of the most successful cocktails of the past decade.
Enter Shaz Dorfling, born and bred in Durban and climbing the bartending ladder to success with her recent entry in The Patrón Perfectionists Cocktail Competition. Her entry earned her a place in the top 15 national finalists and confirmed her flair for creative cocktails. Shaz, who works as a cocktail barman at the Lucky Shaker restaurant bar north of Durban, says her interest in the cocktail scene started way back in childhood going out with her folks.
“Whenever my mom would order a cocktail, I was always amazed at the beautiful glassware and stunningly vibrant colours of the drinks. I couldn’t wait to be old enough to order them for myself!”
She had no idea at the time that her career and success wouldn’t stem from a childhood dream to open her own dance studio, but would blossom instead in the bartending industry.
“With the cocktail scene growing like it is and so many opportunities opening up for cocktail barmen, I just had to get involved and be part of this movement!”
While movie bartenders the likes of Hollywood’s Tom Cruise in Cocktails, or 50s pin-up Marilyn Monroe, preparing the whiskey-and-sweet-vermouth-based Manhattan, in Some Like It Hot , make it look effortlessly easy, Shaz says a lot of thought goes into creating a signature cocktail.
“Not only must it look great, but it needs to be perfectly balanced in order to create an all-round exceptional experience. There’s no use in creating a gorgeous looking cocktail if it tastes overly sweet or too boozy.”
Talking us through her process, Shaz starts off by establishing why she’s designing the cocktail in the first place and who it would be for. “Either of those would give me inspiration for the drink itself. Secondly, the spirit I’m using plays a huge role in which flavour combinations would work to accentuate the tasting notes of the spirit. This is very important as one should always pay homage to the brand and respect the product for what it is instead of trying to mask it.” She then goes on to try different variations, tweaking her recipe until she hits the perfect balance and it’s ready to serve up to patrons.
She’s come a long way since the first cocktail she mastered – the Negroni – which is still her firm favourite.
“If I were a drink I’d be a Negroni,” she says laughing …
”the soul is represented by the gin, the heart is represented by the red vermouth and the Campari represents the mind. These three ingredients in equal parts blend perfectly into a drink that has an air of sensuality, sophistication and dark mystery… Yip! That’s me! “
These days however, Shaz says she loves working with Tequila. “There is just such a huge range of flavors from the blancos all the way through to the extra anejos. And of course with the booming gin market, it’s a lot of fun to play around with all the weird and wonderful craft gins that have come out.”
The profusion of opportunities in the bartending industry keeps her interest alive and Shaz says the cocktail competitions are a huge attraction. “It seems like just a few years ago that being a bartender was only for students and it was regarded as a “dead-end job” whereas now, the level of sophistication in the competitions has pushed bartenders all over the world to become what I like to call “Liquid Chefs”.
It’s no longer about just ordering a beer or a glass of wine, now it’s an amalgamation of techniques and flavours that are so cutting edge that they actually rival qualified chefs.
The competitions themselves are getting more and more extravagant as well, giving bartenders the opportunity to, not only travel the world but also learn the intricate nature of various distilling processes and ageing techniques. As a whole, I find bartending to be a lot more of a respected profession than it ever used to be.”
The industry is constantly evolving with exciting new products being introduced regularly, and it takes dedication and passion to keep up with the changes and trends. For Shaz, staying on top of her game requires doing research, an aspect of the job she finds fun and interesting. Her interest and passion knows no bounds, and when it comes to local brands she’s unashamedly passionately patriotic. “I am really excited about Inverroche, our own South African gin from Stilbaai that has just entered the global market. It has gained so much popularity that it gets requested at our establishment more than the bigger international brands. Now that’s really something to be proud of!”
In as much as careers in the industry have become more sophisticated, so too have its patrons, says Shaz. “I’ve found our local patrons are more discerning, they’re no longer satisfied with the normal old ‘spirit & mixer combos’. They’re experimenting with old classics as well as enjoying the new twists that we come up with. I’ve found they’re also more appreciative of the knowledge that we as bartenders accumulate on all the products that we serve. Patrons are now paying attention to where their favourite brands are from, how they’re made as well as the stories of the original families running the distilleries.”
With so many years behind the bar, surely she has a signature drink? “I’m not sure I have one! I did a twist on the Negroni called ‘The Traveller’ using a spiced gin with a Buchu infused bianco vermouth. That went down very well and there are a few guests that have come back a couple times for it, but I’m not sure if that counts as a signature drink,” she says laughing.
But back to the Patron Perfectionists cocktail competition, considered one of the leading international competitions that spans six and 32 countries. It’s more than just a competition, it’s a journey of inspiration taken by each competitor,” she says proudly, adding that being the only person from Durban to be selected is a huge honour.
“My entry is called ‘The Passion of Patron’. I got my inspiration for this drink from the Patron brand themselves and the 60 plus hands that lovingly assemble each bottle of Patron. I related this to the countless people involved in maintaining the picturesque conservancy of Mount Moreland. There’s a local bee farmer there and I used their honey to develop a cordial for my drink. The cocktail itself consists of a healthy dose of Patron Silver Tequila, my single origin honey cordial and passion fruit juice. The passion fruit juice relates to the passion of the Patron family as well as all my colleagues in the hospitality industry. I live by the rule that nothing should be done without passion!”
When she’s away from work Shaz’s tastes in alcoholic beverages are simple. “My favourite go-to drink when I get home from work is either a glass of wine, or a Negroni. When I go out, I enjoy pairing food and drink so I’d probably choose wine again. On weekends, I just like to chill. I enjoy sipping on a really good tequila with a spicy tomato mix on the side, or maybe a Red Snapper – a Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka, oh … and Margaritas are also great, but honestly, when it’s my day off and I’m feeling lazy, wine is just easier to pour!”
Shaz’s husband, Bruce, is also in the industry and she says he’s been a huge inspiration for her. “He’s the love of my live and my best friend, I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better partner.” While the couple don’t have any children, they do have a fur-baby – a black cat named Lucifur. Together, they share a huge passion for the hospitality industry and can’t imagine their life outside the industry. “Our future dream is to open our own establishment on day,” said Shaz.
A little treat for Martini lovers…
With our mood for all things nostalgic, we gave Shaz some insight into some of our feature profiles for this month’s mag and set her a task to design a cocktail especially for Get It that reflects our October themes.
“When I saw the words retro and jazz I automatically pictured the 1920’s flappers with their feathered head bands and sequins. Somewhere in there is invariably the classic Martini. So, due to my growing insatiable love of Patron, I came up with the ‘Martini de Agave’. I hope you all enjoy!”
Martini de Agave
Garnish: Discarded lemon zest and 2 Green Grapes on a skewer
75ml Patron Silver Tequila
35ml Lemon infused Bianco Vermouth