I’m meeting our dynamic head bartender and mixologist Charlotte Race in The Baa, she has promised a botanical masterclass to help me understand why the cocktails at Thyme are so extraordinary. Only 21, fresh from the European Bartending School, she joined the team at Thyme last year and quickly proved herself ready to learn and keen to immerse herself in the ethos of fresh seasonal produce, the principle behind every menu and recipe produced in the hotel, The Cookery School, The Swan and The Baa.
It’s great watching her behind the bar, she is in her element as she gathers ingredients and tells me:
‘Designing the menus & cocktails is definitely the most exciting aspect of my role at Thyme. The cocktails are unique, developed in response to the flavours found in the kitchen garden, hedgerows and watermeadows of the estate. The support from the garden and culinary team here is really important, we are always in discussion, finding the perfect balance for our signature cocktails, and improving the flavours in the classics.'
She is really very poetic when talking about this creative process, a ‘young urban creative’ with a touch of ‘young hedgerow innovator’ thrown in; gorgeous & glamorous though, so it is difficult to imagine her enjoying wading through the mud after an elusive herb. She laughs:
'I like being able to reproduce the colours and smells we have on the estate, it makes the cocktail list really relevant to where we are and what we do. Take the Gin Buzz (she is making one now), we use fennel, with its anis notes, and earthy nettle as a light base flavouring and shake it with mint leaves to create a simple and freshly sweet flavour, mirroring the smells of the spring garden.'
I know a little about this one, it was designed for a group of bloggers & instagram-famous who were brought to Thyme for an ‘Up all Night’ event by Smith Hotels. The brief – something enlivening (it was a long day for them all) with an emphasis on botanicals, show them what Thyme is all about. But with a brief like that how did she even get started?
'With Extra Dry Gin, Chase Distillery infuse this gin with cinnamon and almond which brings a sweetness but liquorice and ginger too so it worked perfectly with the combination of fennel. I add liquid Ginseng as it is a stimulant also known for its healing properties, it smells like freshly cut grass and is tart and tangy. I then add a small amount of sweet date syrup and elderflower liqueur to balance; Orgeat for a springtime, nutty aftertaste, topped with a few drops of lavender bitters for floral notes. All that’s left to do is shake the cocktail to oxidise and mix the ingredients, then pour it over fresh ice and bruised mint leaves. Top the drink with soda and garnish with something pretty, apple blossom smells lovely with it. The taste is fresh and botanical, not dissimilar to a vegetal tonic but with a sweet, nutty and flavourful aftertaste - totally refreshing and revitalizing.'
That was a brief utterly fullfilled. Obviously, mirroring the smells of the garden, getting the layering of complex botanical flavours just right is not a simple process, there is a huge amount of work behind a cocktail like this, and as I taste it I can see why it stayed on the menu after the blogging event. Sinking into one of The Baa's soft and deeply inviting sofas, Gin Buzz in hand, I can't think of a better way to end my working day - cheers!