6 Aug 2013

SPIRITS: Twenty Two Mile Cocktail

Douglas Blyde heads to Four Seasons, Hampshire to sample a summer cocktail crafted from local ingredients (for Harper’s
“I THINK of myself as a junior mixologist, steering drinks,” says James Edwards. Compared to previous roles at a steak and lobster house and over 21s live music venue, Edwards “couldn’t be happier” at Four Seasons, Hampshire, where he has worked since 2009. Alongside, he completed studies in business enterprise development with the aim to pursue consultancy. However, Edwards decided to continue working at the five-star hotel’s bar, 1086 – a reference to the year the manor was recognised in the Domesday book. “I didn’t want to leave,” he says, “in fact, I didn’t even look for another job.”
Edwards recounts the area’s history. “Henry VIII met Catherine of Aragon here; it was also a haven for Polish pilots and a school for girls.”
Working well within limits dictated by the Canadian management firm – to feature ingredients from 100 miles of properties (dedicated web site), Edwards, himself a local, and senior colleagues devised the “Twenty Two”. The “re-visited martini” focuses on Bombay Sapphire, now distilled 22 miles east at Laverstoke Mill.
Edwards adds one part of the gin, infused with home-grown chillies, to four parts non-infused. Combined with elderflower cordial from plants growing by the staff entrance, and juice from home-grown lemons, this is shaken hard and double-strained into a clear martini glass. Although Edwards considered a black vial, clear “delivered more impact.”
The Twenty Two is topped with a foaming agent from specialist hospitality supplier, MSK, rehydrated with soda. Finally, the edge of the martini triangle is garnished with a halved, de-seeded chilli bearing honeycomb harvested from hives by the hotel’s stables. “In time, honey falls down the chilli to become part of the drink,” says Edwards.
The result bears powerful perfume, not unlike, but more dramatic than, still English wine from Germanic varieties, a supple texture from the MSK/soda cap, citric tingle and lasting chilli bite. “Finding the right level of chilli temperature proved the hardest challenge,” Edwards appraises.
In addition to the Twenty Two, Edwards shows me two other cocktails from 1086’s new menu. Roseanne (£18) is the invention of colleague, Andrea Amori who named it after his wife, a pastry chef at the property. Italian, Amori makes good use of his native ingredients, including aperitif Aperol and Limoncello liqueur, as well as passion fruit syrup, muddled raspberries and lemon juice. The components are shaken then poured into a chilled Champagne flute and topped, slowly to prevent frothing, with a cuvée of Louis Roederer Champagne specially bottled for Four Seasons. This is simply garnished with a grape-like branch of redcurrants. Against the sun, the drink bears an orange hue. Overall, Limoncello and lemon lends a long, engaging, sherbet-like aftertaste, off-setting potentially overly-cosseting passion fruit.
Finally, Grand Cerise (£13), apparently finalised the day before we meet, is Edwards take on his favourite cocktail, the Old Fashioned. “Some create cocktails for people, others for moments; here, I wanted something to suit my preferences,” he says. Initially not a whisky fanatic, Edwards intends the drink to be “a gateway” for non-whisky lovers. He notes the research process of “delving into liquid history” was particularly interesting on account of seeing “what people were thinking about when they themselves were creating.”
Edwards adds a dash of lemon bitters and juice, then Grand Marnier and fresh orange juice into the shaker, followed by replacement for brown sugar, Maraschino liqueur (which circumnavigates the need to muddle), and Famous Grouse blended Scotch. This he shakes with such conviction as to be temporarily breathless. Finally, in an Old Fashioned glass, Edwards adds a little crème de cerise, bull’s-eye into the centre of the drink, forming a bright, even slightly tropical (particularly so for Hampshire) looking foundation. The DNA of the original drink comes through, wrapped up so pleasantly that the whisky tastes, to my palate, better than it might have neat. Where one puts the straw affects the level of sweetness.
In the future, Edwards hopes to explore “spherification,” shaping mint into bubbles for a modernised Mojito.
Edwards mentions, aided by new training regime, “Get Me Right”, his at-work persona has become less bureaucratic and more about reading the customer. He calls this: “breaking out of strict guidelines.” The Twenty Two cocktail is part of Four Seasons desire to exhibit curiosity towards local produce. Already, Hampshire’s head chef, Cyrille Pannier, makes his own goat’s cheese and sources prime beef from Laverstoke Park.