Most places I visit have a drink of some sort that is regional, well loved by locals and a source of fascination for tourists. South Africa doesn’t only have its own drink, it has its own drinking tradition; a daily happy hour known simply as a Sundowner.
The origin of the name probably isn’t all that difficult to guess, sundown, end of the day, hoisting a glass as you celebrate the completion of another 24 hours on earth. But when you first go on safari in the beautiful bush of South Africa, this tradition transforms into something much more than a chance to drink; it becomes a memory to treasure.
Driving through the South Africa bush on safari, there were certain rules I was happy to obey; chief amongst them “Don’t Leave the Vehicle.” Going on safari is a little like the scene in Jurassic Park when the scientists take the automated jeep through the primordial forest. Except this isn’t a movie, the animals are real and I’m as green as it comes in the bush.
So when the guides abruptly changed their minds towards the end of the safari, stopped the jeep and asked us all to get out I was a little concerned. The nearby rhino didn’t help make me feel better. Or the lion paw prints. Or whatever that sound was in the brush.
But that is how every Sundowner experience in the South African bush starts, it’s a remarkable opportunity to stroll around the bush with your friends and family and toast the beauty of the setting sun over the savannah with your choice of beverage. While any drink technically constitutes a Sundowner, a popular favorite in South Africa is Amarula.
Called the ‘Spirit of Africa,’ Amarula is a milky liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree; popular in Southern Africa for the stories of elephants who accidentally get drunk off of the fermented fruit. And that’s ultimately how the drink was created, by watching these beautiful animals grow increasingly drunk after a few bites of this strange fruit.
Amarula reminds me a lot of Bailey’s, or other similar milk-based drinks, but with a unique taste that is simultaneously delicious and exotic.
That’s probably why I always opt for the Amarula as my Sundowner drink of choice, as do many others visiting South Africa for the first time. You can buy a bottle of the beverage just about anywhere in the world in case you want to create your own exotic, African themed Sundowner event at home. Just serve it chilled, over ice and enjoy sipping it with your favorite sunset view. Nothing though beats the first time you experience a Sundowner in the middle of the beautiful South African bush.
What drink reminds you the most of a place you’ve visited?