Keen-eyed readers will recognise the name of this hotel from my blog post about their fabulous tasting menu, in which each dish was accompanied by a cocktail from their marvellous mixologist, Shane Turner. I’m not really much of a cocktail person, but I have to say that these were really original and exciting, made with Shane’s own infused liqueurs and syrups, and with nary a tiny paper umbrella in sight.
With that in mind, when Combe Grove got in touch again to ask if I’d like to come to a liqueur-making workshop with their talented head barman, it didn’t take me very long to say yes. I arrived on the appointed day to find the same exquisite private dining room as before transformed into an incredible Bacchanalian feast of ingredients. Side tables overflowed with frilly bunches of fragrant herbs, piles of fat glossy strawberries, Spanish oranges wrapped in waxed paper, and golden-skinned pears.
Shane had raided the Combe Grove bar for a wide range of liqueurs (don’t worry, it was before cocktail hour) which he used to talk us through the history and practise of sweetened, flavoured spirits, from the mysterious, pale green chartreuse (made with over 130 plants to a recipe known only by two French monks, who aren’t allowed to travel together lest they perish and the secret perishes with them – true story) to Disaronno which, we learnt, is not a true amaretto (not that Disaronno claim it is) as it’s made with peach kernels instead of the traditional almonds. We sampled two different types of limoncello to compare the synthetic lemon flavouring to one infused with thick slices of lemon peel, full of fragrant oils – and agreed that the natural version, although a lot slower to make, was much deeper and more delicious.
|My chosen ingredients|
Then we came to the creative bit. Each of us was given a heavy glass jar and let loose amongst the bounty of ingredients to pick our flavours – I chose pears and a few sprigs of thyme, and elected to sweeten my infusion with honey, rather than sugar (a key characteristic of a liqueur is the amount of sugar added, a practice that started when sugar became widely available in the 13th century, and in a frenzy that would reduce a dentist to tears, we started adding it to everything). Finally, we topped it all up with plenty of Finlandia vodka and put the lids on tightly. Unfortunately, it takes 5 months for a proper infusion, so you’ll have to come back later to find out what it tastes like – but I had great fun on this course and would highly recommend it to any cocktail fiend. Make sure you allow time for a tipple or two in the bar afterwards.
£40 pp for a three hour course, includes your 40cl infused liqueur to take away. For more information, visit the Combe Grove Hotel website.
|The finished liqueurs – ready to set down for five months…|