Thyme has a longstanding friendship with Seedlip, meeting their founder Ben Branson at the beginning of his journey to introduce the world to its first non-alcoholic distilled spirit. His authenticity in keeping the brand true to its farm-roots and natural ingredients struck a chord with Thyme's own ethos. Recently we met with co-founder, Claire Warner, who joined Seedlip to develop the non-alcoholic portfolio with Ben and Æcorn was born. Claire has been a tireless advocate for better health and wellness within the hospitality industry, on a mission to develop delicious drinks, regardless of their alcohol content, that provide more sophisticated options for ‘what to drink when you’re not drinking’. We are very excited to be working with Æcorn and intrigued to find out more ...
When Ben Branson visited Thyme he brought with him not only his first still, but a ‘seedlip’, the wooden ‘basket’ that farmworkers from previous centuries would hoist over their shoulders to carry the seed as they sowed the fields. Where did Æcorn get its name?
When we set out to create Æcorn, we wanted to create something to complement food. We spent a lot of time in dusty libraries with our head in books, exploring the history of eating and drinking and we unearthed long-forgotten recipes and techniques that focused on ingredients over alcohol content. Tucked into the back of the 17th century manuscript, the ‘Art of Distillation’, we discovered a recipe for ‘acorn wine. This recipe was unusual for a number of reasons. It contained many appetite stimulating botanicals and it included acorns. We used this recipe as inspiration for the range, and based them all on another 17th century ingredient, verjus. Verjus is the juice of young grapes and was used in England before citrus was introduced in the middle ages. We use a special kind of verjus produced exclusively from English Sparkling Wine grapes which are grown in Sussex. This is the only verjus produced in the UK.
Like its sister brand, Æcorn is rooted in nature, what are the key botanicals used in the new range of aperitifs?
The Æcorn range comprises of three varietals, each one based on English Sparkling Wine grapes; Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. These are pressed early to create a crisp, tart and refreshing liquid known as verjus. Using this as our base, we add botanicals from here in the UK, as well as from all over the world to create our range of elegant and complex drinks.
- Æcorn Dry White is green, floral and herbaceous with notes of nettle, clary sage and chamomile. Crisp and refreshing, it finishes with complex notes of black tea and white oak.
- Æcorn Aromatic Red is sweet and complex, with notes of smoked Cherrywood, vanilla and kola nut, plus chinotto, a bittersweet Italian citrus fruit. The richest and certainly most indulgent of the range, Æcorn Aromatic Red is full-bodied and silky smooth, finishing with warming notes of clove, cassia and American oak.
- Æcorn Bitter Aperitif is complex and citrusy with refreshing notes of grapefruit, bay leaf and orange, and as the name would suggest, Æcorn Bitter is the boldest of our range. Bittersweet with lingering notes of Quassia and gentian and balanced by honeycomb and English oak for body and a hint of sweetness.
In the past, an ‘aperitif’ was drunk to induce appetite and ready the stomach for the meal to come, in modern times the ‘aperitif’ is perhaps more a precursor to a dining experience or occasion and is invariably alcoholic … how does Æcorn connect with the history of this very particular drink and it’s place in an evening of food?
Derived from the Latin verb ‘aperire’ meaning ‘to open’, an aperitif is a drink usually consumed before a meal to stimulate the appetite and any drink that works to enhance or enrich our enjoyment of food. Æcorn was created to complement food by providing the foil that it needs, without the alcohol. In many of the same ways that wine works with food, our sparkling wine grape base and use of botanicals provide complexity, flavour and structure. All important elements to consider when pairing drinks with food. We’re often told that the only way to enhance food is with wine, but we believe that with the right focus on flavour we can provide a credible non-alcoholic alternative. Tastes and attitudes towards how and when we drink are changing and everybody deserves a seat at the table, whether you’re drinking, not drinking, or somewhere in-between. My hope is that by providing greater options for those who are not drinking, people will continue to visit pubs, bars and restaurants to eat and spend time with friends, helping us maintain meaningful connections to each other.
We are seeing lots of excitement around our home-made vermouth, and cocktails that use the Ox Barn’s tinctures and shrubs, they all appeal to a bitter palate … do you think that there is a change in the drinking public’s taste for sugary drinks?
Drinking has certainly changed in the past few years and drinking levels are at their lowest since 2005, as a nation we’re becoming far more health conscious. As a consequence, not only are we drinking less, we have seen a dramatic move away from sugar-laded drinks in recent years and a growing interest in complex, botanically forward and bitter flavours. We now have more information than ever before about how to use fresh ingredients in drinks this has sparked many people’s interest in experimenting either in bars or at home.
January is the perfect time for bitter flavours on the menu at Thyme, we have chicories and kales coming from the garden and our chefs and bartenders are choosing the best that the season’s citrus can offer. How is it best to drink Æcorn’s aperitifs within the winter landscape of our menus?
- Æcorn Dry White is a versatile and refreshing option that pairs well with lighter dishes such as the Ox Barn’s Pear, Stichelton, Quince & Walnut Salad or with fish options such as the Cod, Fennel & Persillade. It also perfect with salty almonds and green olives if you prefer to go down the snack route!
- Æcorn Aromatic Red can also be enjoyed with richer or heavier dishes – I’d recommend drinking it neat with Venison, Jerusalem Artichokes, Prune & Horseradish. It’s also a great match for creamy cheeses, chocolate and coffee so is an ideal drink to have after a meal as well as before.
- Æcorn Bitter Aperitif is best enjoyed as a Spritz or let the liquid really shine in our modern twist on a classic, the NOgroni, a cocktail made famous by our sister brand, Seedlip. Bitter also pairs well with charcuterie, bold cheeses, green olives and salted almonds.
Æcorn Aperitifs will be the Thyme Nightcap in hotel bedrooms throughout January.
Book a stay, a table at the Ox Barn or a table at The Swan on Friday 31st January and meet Toby from Æcorn and a guest sommelier in The Baa Bar at Thyme for a complimentary tipple before dinner.
Contact us for more details 01367 850174