Meeting James Chase in The Baa for a bit of cocktail magikry
Welcoming the very lovely James Chase in The Baa at Thyme is always a treat, but with the festive season upon us the thought of Christmas cocktail recipes fuels his visit with even more excitement. He arrives laden with goodies from Williams Chase, bottles that promise a very English-take on Christmas cheer - Sloe & Mulberry Gin, Marmalade Vodka join an array of their distinctive bottles on our zinc-coated bar. They glisten magically and jostle for attention but we begin by discussing how James became associated with Thyme:
I met Caryn Hibbert (Thyme’s Founder) through her son Charlie, we were at Cheltenham College together. Staying in touch and hearing all the exciting plans that were emerging from the family I was more than happy to meet to discuss Chase spirits being used behind the new bar. Growing up on a family farm I have massive admiration for anyone who aspires to a field to fork ethos, Thyme really endorses this.
While we talk he busies himself with the bottles, jolly little bow ties around their necks. The last time James was here he was helping us in National Honey Week with a deliciously sweet & sour offering called ‘The Bees Knees’ - Gin, Thyme’s Southrop honey & ginger syrup, lemon juice and a little almond essence – a lovely collaboration; but he would rather chat about staying at Thyme as a guest during the ‘soft launch’ of the hotel:
It was a total pleasure to be invited for what turned out to be a sumptuous and indulgent weekend. The rooms are packed with personality, we stayed in ‘Horny Goatweed’, there’s a story in there but perhaps for another day! One of Thyme’s ‘cosy’ bedroom suites - we thought it was absolutely charming. Starting our evening in the newly renovated bar, where the Chase Smoked Vodka Martinis were flowing, couldn’t have been more convivial, later we wandered up to their gorgeous country pub, The Swan, and feasted the night away on local produce, cooked perfectly. The next morning was a real treat, after a killer breakfast, we were rounded up and Daryll, such a very talented chef, led us to the kitchen gardens to forage for our lunch; in the cookery school we made the most incredible fresh pasta ravioli with Cerney goats’ cheese and young runner beans, swimming in a sage butter. To say it was delicious would be an understatement. Time seems to just disappear at Thyme, whether you’re wanting to cook, eat, drink or simply escape. It is an absolute gem.
The bottles won’t be ignored anymore, and I’m interested in their provenance, you can see that its not a run-of-the-mill product and we talk a little about the family farm he mentioned earlier and the ethos behind his products:
Our farm is based in Herefordshire, a region that boasts some of the richest farmland in the world. We grow King Edward and Lady Claire potatoes for the distillery, as well as cider apples for our Naked Chase Apple Vodka and Williams Gin. Having the distillery located on the farm allows us to keep a watchful eye over how our potatoes and apples move from field to bottle. It’s this single-estate approach that makes us different. We can trace each bottle to the very field we harvested, refusing to buy in neutral grain spirit, our process is incredibly laborious but, in our opinion well worth the effort.
The flock of upholstered sheep in The Baa watch attentively as he begins the process of choosing the right pairings to capture Christmas in a glass. The botanicals Chase use ensure a floral style with great length & depth, the perfect base for our cocktails, where what grows on the land surrounding us inspires all the food & drink we prepare. I am trying not to be too impatient as I watch, the evening is closing in, candle light reflects off the antique glass mirrors behind the bar and a little alchemy is being performed before my very eyes. I’m tempted by the Mulberry & Sloe Cobbler, but we’ve been thinking a lot about marmalade at Thyme (there is a fabulous recipe in Molly Tait Hyland’s article this month) and so find myself choosing the Marmalade & Apricot Julep. With Chase’s rich Marmalade Vodka we pair an apricot conserve Daryll made in June when British apricots were at their most delicious, and with mint from the garden it is most definitely the one to share with you for the festive season.