I love gin. Gin is my favourite spirit; it's great with ice cold tonic and a big fat wedge of lime. I never used to like it when I was younger, especially when everyone said it makes you cry and it has a bad reputation for being 'Mother's Ruin'. A holiday in Goa changed all that; fresh lime juice, soda, a little sugar and a shot of gin converted me nicely. On occasion, I have been known to drink gin n' juice (of the orange kind, or sometimes even pineapple). So it was with great excitement that I attended the Whitley Neill 'Top of the Tree' Challenge bar crawl, to taste the original cocktails in four different bars, created with Whitley Neill gin.
Whitley Neill is made in England and inspired by Africa. At the event, I met Johnny Neill who started the company. He told me that this gin is made with nine different botanicals, two specifically from Africa to make a warmly spiced gin. What's more, a part of the profits is donated to Tree Aid; even more of a reason to drink it.
We started off at the Lobby Bar at One Aldwych and kicked off with a cocktail called 'Africa', spiced with star anise and cinnamon. I'm not a great fan of cinnamon, but the Amaretto that was also in the drink mellowed it out somewhat. The bar snacks at the Lobby Bar were gorgeous; crystallised physalis, of which I haven't eaten before, bursted in the mouth through the initial hard sugar coating. We also had some huge, buttery and luridly green olives that got exclaimations of deliciousness. I wanted to eat them all.
With four bars in total and many cocktails to sample, we moved through each one fairly quickly, but not so that we were rushed. The definite highlight for me was a cocktail pictured above, called 'Passing Thyme'. We had it at a bar called Bureau in Kingly Street; as we all traipsed in we inadvertently gate-crashed Labour MP Diane Abbott giving a speech about Barack Obama winning the election. Rather surreal!
Here is the recipe:
Cocktail: Passing Thyme
Bartender: Lewis Wilkinson
50ml Whitley Neill
3 x sprigs fresh Thyme
20ml lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup
2 dash of peach bitters
Top with soda
Muddle, shake, strain, top with soda. Garnish with lemon wedge and thyme sprigs.
This cocktail was great. I've had a thyme sorbet before and thought it worked really well, perhaps better than in savoury dishes. The peach bitters really complemented the gin and made for a very refreshing drink and I did comment that it was perhaps the only one I could have had more than one of so far.
So there it was, my new favourite cocktail. Other bloggers were invited and have written up about it (with better photos than mine): Niamh, Helen, Chris, Tim, Melanie, tikichris, Annie, and Life On The Edge. Tikichris especially has a good set of photos of all the cocktails on Flickr, here.