There I was, perusing the drink options at the various establishments at V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa, when I came across a product that caught my eye. Bottled cocktails? Pre-made to perfection? My American mind couldn’t comprehend, but sure enough, there they were––pre-mixed cocktails in bright, colorful packaging, just waiting for me to try.
Coming into South Africa from the U.S., I was surprised by the pre-mixed cocktail selection at local grocery stores. You could play pin the tail on the donkey in the drink aisle and always find something tasty. Just remember to call the line a queue on the way out, or the locals might give you a strange look.
I found the sourest passion fruit mocktails, dark n’ stormys with the gingeriest ginger beer and the most refreshing virgin shandy I’ve ever had (ok, I’ve never had a real shandy, but still.). Many wouldn’t even consider some of these cocktails, but I beg to differ. One of these drinks comes from the best pre-mixed drink brands ever. It’s a company that makes higher quality drinks than most local bartenders.
And on the way home I couldn’t help but get sucked into the food markets of the city, which had even more pre-mixed goodness. Let’s just say Icee has a new rival. They’ll be having some trouble if this South African slushie brand comes over to the U.S. But with that began my journey down a rabbit hole of pre-mixed cocktails…
#5: Eskimo Joe’s Is More Pre-mixed Than Any Cocktail You’ve Ever Seen
I found Eskimo Joe’s at V&A Foodmarket from a place called Plucky’s. And I’ll tell you. They spoiled me silly before I even got a chance to explore Joe’s other options around the city. Plucky’s only had blue and lemon, so I ordered grape at another place that offered it.
I come to find out Plucky’s is the only place that fills it up to the very top. Everyone else fills it up until it hits the bottom of the lid with so much space to spare. Is there a run on empathy here, guys? Fill it up to the lid. That’s what I expect from a slushie. Or maybe Americans just have different standards for pre-mixed drinks.
Speaking of pre-mixed cocktail standards, I’ve heard a lot of banter on cocktail purism. The idea that a slushie like Eskimo Joe’s can’t be a cocktail hurts me like an ice-cream headache. Some of the most classic cocktails in existence are slushies. What happened to frozen margaritas and daiquiris?
If we’re talking about mixed drinks, then look at how much Joe gets mixed. Before you buy him, he’s been sitting in that machine with at least a few hours of constant movement on his shoulders. If anything, he’s the most pre-mixed––the epitome of cocktails. That movement, by the way, gets you those beautifully shaped ice crystal grains. They distribute the flavor like my great-grandmother’s raw milk butter on toast.
I like to think of slushies like cordials. Your enjoyment heavily depends on the base—a cordial tastes like runoff water if the base doesn’t add any pizazz. When you blend it up with ice or put it in seltzer water, it tastes like a birthday at Dave N’ Busters. But plain old tap water won’t cut it. Similarly, if Joe the Eskimo doesn’t have good enough ice crystal development, it’ll start to look like it belongs in a pet bowl.
Oh, and I almost forgot to say what the actual flavor is. It’s blue! I know you know exactly what I’m talking about when I say blue.
#4: South Africa’s Premier Grocer Had to Give the Pre-mixed Route a Try
Ahh, the classic––a passion fruit cocktail, or virgin cocktail in this case. Woolworths had me in shock when I arrived in Cape Town. It’s a top tier wholefoods-level bougie grocery store. Jumbo display refrigerators lined queues with so many pre-mixed cocktail options.
As far as flavor goes, it’s nothing to scoff at. But passion fruit cocktails are like pizza––even a bad pizza tastes good. And this drink, comparatively, was middle-of-the-road. I’ve had better passion fruit regardless of how good it was. It’s more of a cocktail than the slushie too, so it’ll go higher on this list.
On a sunny South African summer day, my family and I had a ball modeling for this article. Yes, the store-bought drinks help, but it’s not like they have any alcohol. What kept us going were the stupid ideas, banter, telling overblown stories and snitching on the Crips.
Above is a picture of me reenacting to my brother and dad how I imagine Bob Saget drinks bottled beverages. This was also the day I found out Bob Saget was dead. But we didn’t let that little fact ruin the evening. We continued lounging on our balcony, preparing our next drink. A drink which actually couldn’ve actually ruined our evening.
#3: Woolworths’ Dark N’ Stormy Stands Out Among Their Pre-mixed Options
Woolworths hits it on the mark again with their pre-mixed dark n’ stormy. It may say bitter, but it leans more on the ginger side of a dark n’ stormy’s complexion with its sweet and spicy flavor. The bitters are almost unnoticeable, but you can tell they’re there. I like cocktails with bitters, but it’s not an Italian-level love.
I felt this drink was the most agreeable drink on this list. Its taste is well balanced, and who doesn’t like a good dark n’ stormy? That’s why I decided to use this drink for the thumbnail. But after I took the semi-stunt-like picture, my dad wanted to give it a try. And that’s what really could’ve ruined our ball.
See, what he didn’t realize is that this takes practice. It just so happens that I’ve been trying to drink water very fast since I was young. After seeing someone speed a Dasani in less than 3 seconds, I had to learn.
Basically, I learned how to drink water without my lips or a seal. This means I allow air to go down with the water. It feels weird at first, but you can get the hang of it quickly. Sadly, my father ended up like a stoner trying to make his mouth a cereal bowl––liquids went everywhere. But he dusted off his shoulders afterward, so we continued on.
#2: Savanna Is a Lemon-Cider Pre-mixed Drink Reminiscent of a Shandy
Savanna is the first dealcoholized Apple cider I’ve ever seen. I always assumed when you make nonalcoholic cider, you don’t ferment it. And on top of that, I wondered what the point of fermentation than dealcoholization was.
But it really does add flavor. It’s mind-numbing to me that I never connected this to why alcohol-free beer exists. It has a lot of the properties of regular beer just without the alcohol because it was fermented and then dealcoholized. This also reminded me of kombucha since they also sometime dealcoholize their products due to regulatory pressure. But that’s basically the whole secret to Savanna’s great flavor––fermentation.
When I first gave Savanna a taste, it was like a regular nonalcoholic apple cider, just with a lot more depth of flavor. It was far more refreshing too. The added lemon flavor complemented the sweet fermented apple taste, giving me Shandy vibes. It has all the refreshing notes of kombucha without the gym locker room aftertaste.
Savanna is a drink I’m going to be lobbying to come to the U.S. But as for the final drink on this list, you can find it there already if you look in the right place.
#1: Fitch & Leedes Shows How Great Pre-mixed Drinks Can Be
Ohh, Fitch & Leedes. I just like to call them the paradigmatic posse. All of their drinks are examples of what a good pre-mixed drink should be. You might as well consider this position to include every Fitch & Leeds flavor available. It just so happens that the lime twist was the one I got this particular day.
Fitch & Leedes is a perfect middle ground between extra sticky sweet soda and bitter, low sugar extra strength 100 proof cocktails. They’re great at having the facade of a cocktail coupled with the casual flavor of any canned drink. And that’s a rare sight. You’re often drinking something with totally unique flavors, creative flavors and the other half it’s just Coke.
Just look at how emphatically my father drinks his Fitch & Leedes. It’s reminiscent of all those cool mixed drinks at the bar, but you can still drink the whole can without asking for a pallet cleanser. If you see them in a store, give them a taste. They’re rare in the US, but I’ve heard they’re carried in a lot of specialty drink stores, so keep an eye out.
Now, with your newfound knowledge on all these South African drinks, what do you think you’ll try when you visit? Maybe Eskimo Joe for the kids, Woolworths for a drink tasting and Savanna and Fitch & Leedes for relaxation time. Regardless, all these great cocktails can be a toss-up. So I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.