Festive Cocktails & Celebratory Meals: Add Some Spirit to the Season this Year

Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey

Celebrity chef, radio and television personality, Jenny Morris – the Giggling Gourmet – and renowned Mmisology the Mixologist, believes the versatility of U.S. distilled spirits can shine during the holiday season, whether in seasonal cocktails or enhancing celebratory meals.
At a virtual tasting and food pairing hosted this week by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), as part of its “Cheers! Spirits from the U.S.A” campaign; Jenny and Mmiso showcased a selection of American distilled spirits including America’s native spirit – Bourbon, and shared tips on how to integrate them into festive seasonal entertaining.

Top U.S. spirits for summer entertaining

As one of South Africa’s current favourite spirits, gin is a great drink for summer celebrations and James Bay’s Lochside Summer Gin No 5 is an award-winning citrus-forward gin perfect for light summer cocktails.

James Bay Lochside Summer Gin No 5
James Bay Lochside Summer Gin No 5.

Mmiso suggests serving a classic Gin Sour or Gimlet as a welcome drink or apéritif.  “It’s light and fresh, and cleanses the palate,” he says. “People are also loving simple gin with elderflower tonic this summer.”

Jenny adds that gin pairs well with fresh seafood such as langoustines and mussels and can even be added to the poaching water providing a new dimension to steamed seafood.

Nothing says summer holidays like rum-based tropical cocktails, and Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum takes the island flavours a step further with an infusion of real hibiscus flowers and coconut. Experimenting with exciting new distilled spirit flavours can add a whole new dimension to meals and drinks, say the experts.

Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum
Whistling Andy Hibiscus Coconut Rum.

“This could work well in a citrus and coconut sauce with chicken,” says Jenny.

Mmiso says: “In a cocktail, it would be great in a coconut daiquiri with fresh pineapple.”

American Rye Whiskey generally has a spicier profile than other American Whiskeys. Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey, a blend of two straight rye mash bills, aged 4 to 6 years in high-char American oak barrels, adds notes of candied dried orange, clove, and nutmeg to its spicy complexity.

Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey
Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey.

“American Rye Whiskey could pair well with peppered chicken, lamb or steak – thanks to its spiciness,” says Jenny.

“In cocktails, it would work with ingredients like fresh apple juice, ginger and bitters,” says Mmiso.

While delicious neat, Flag Hill’s Sugar Maple Liqueur, distilled from fresh apples and maple syrup, could also be used to flambe and drizzle over fresh nectarines, topped with mascarpone, for a simple yet showstopping dessert, says Jenny.  Using a uniquely flavoured spirit such as Sugar Maple Liqueur also presents opportunities to give a fresh twist to classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or to SA’s old favourite Dom Pedro with milk and ice cream, says Mmiso.

Flaghill Sugar Maple Liqueur
Flaghill Sugar Maple Liqueur.

Bourbon, made of at least 51% corn, is typically a bit sweeter than other American Whiskeys. Mmiso says Bourbon is increasingly popular in cocktails, and pairs well with hearty red meat-based meals such as steaks, roasts and braais.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon, featuring soft red winter wheat for a distinctive sweetness, adds robust flavour and complexity to festive treats such as Jenny’s Chocolate Bourbon Balls featuring crushed almonds, crumbed shortbread biscuits, cocoa powder, honey and almond essence.

Makers Mark
Maker’s Mark Bourbon.



½ cup almonds, finely crushed
2 ½ cup shortbread biscuits crumbs
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup Bourbon
¾ teaspoon almond essence
1 cup icing sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ tablespoons honey


¾ cup vermicelli chocolate for rolling the truffles.



Place the biscuit crumbs and nuts into the bowl of a food processor. Place the Bourbon, almond essence, icing sugar, cocoa powder and honey into a bowl and stir together until smooth.

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Spoon the Bourbon mixture into the biscuit mixture and pulse until just combined. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and gather it into a ball. Let it rest at room temperature for 60 minutes. Divide the mixture into balls and roll them in chocolate vermicelli, making sure they are covered evenly.

This recipe makes 12 truffles.

Mmiso & Jenny
Mmiso & Jenny.


About the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is the leading voice and advocate for distilled spirits in the United States:

DISCUS’ Cheers! Spirits from the U.S.A. campaign, supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) & Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) program, aims to educate the hospitality industry, adult consumers and media in key spirits export markets on the taste, heritage, and style of American distilled spirits. DISCUS’ initiatives focus on the range of American spirits, but with a particular focus on the unique qualities of American Whiskeys, including Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, American Rye Whiskey, and American Single Malt Whiskey, which account for most U.S. spirits exports worldwide.

Makers Mark

For more information about the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. visit www.distilledspirits.org.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Inc., prohibits discrimination in its programs on the basis of race, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or other protected status.

The U.S. distilled spirits industry is committed to social responsibility. For those adults who choose to drink, they should do so in moderation and responsibly at all times.

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