he owner Ian likes to drink it straight from the freezer,” says apprentice distiller and cocktail afficionado Siobhan Feeley, as she pours a healthy measure of Sacred’s Christmas Pudding gin – the first element of an Aunt Nellie’s Tipple – into an ice-filled mixing glass.
Eight of us stand round the bar of the cosy upstairs space watching Siobhan at work: we’re taking part in the Sacred Masterclass, an evening of making and imbibing a quartet of libations, learning interesting facts – and gathering some top tips along the way.
It’s just one event in a programme that also includes distillery visits and gin-making sessions, not to mention simply sipping on a G&T in the inviting space. Come December it will be adorned with holly and a duo of beautifully decorated Christmas trees. Bottles are available to buy too, ideal for a seasonal gift.
Back at the class, Siobhan adds their rich and piney ruby-hued Sacred Sloe to subtle and aromatic Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and three drops of Regans’ No. 6 orange bitters. Deftly stirring before decanting into a dinky Nick and Nora glass, she passes the finished product to us – her students – to sample. Sweet and spicy, this adapted version of Brian Silva’s (of Balthazar fame) is potently oh-so-quaffable.
It’s our turn now to replicate Siobhan’s work: try as we might, the flavour profile is not quite the same. She made it look so simple. The festive spirit that’s the main component is made using founder Ian Hart’s great aunt’s recipe which he found tucked away in a book at home. This year, Ian cooked up seventy-two kilos of puds and distilled them, equating to 3000 bottles. The result? A slightly cognac-y libation with notes of candied peel and raisins.
Next-up is an inventive take on the espresso martini. The apocryphal story goes that the original was created for a young model (some say Naomi Campbell), who requested something that would ‘wake her up and then fuck her up’. Quite.
Siobhan uses fragrant Sacred’s Cardamom Gin in place of vodka, combined with coffee from Dartmouth Park’s Crick’s Corner and a drizzle of maple syrup. Don’t forget to shake in a circular motion to stop the ice breaking up and use a fine strainer to avoid shards getting through. Taste-wise, it’s just the right harmony of sweet and bitter. Yet when we try our hand, it’s lacking balance and boozier; a teeny mismeasurement can make such a difference. Dammit.
For our third, it’s time for a build-your-own Collins using their interpretation of 18th-century Old Tom gin. Made using liquorice root, juniper and orange peel, it’s bottled with a bell round the neck. “It’s hard to believe that hasn’t been thought of before,” says Siobhan.
Mixed with lemons juiced using a Mexican elbow (a handy piece of equipment), sugar syrup and soda, the final ingredient is a liqueur of our choice. Siobhan opts for Pamplemousse Rosé, making for an incredibly tart and mouth-puckering concoction. We choose exotic Giffard Caribbean Pineapple – slowly macerated sun-ripened fruit enhanced with aged rum and spices. With a slight sherbet fizz, we’re chuffed with our rather unusual creation. “It’s so tropical,” says Siobhan.
Lastly and most powerful is the sazerac. “It’s the new breed Old Fashioned,” says Siobhan. Comprising Wild Turkey bourbon, Angostura and Peychaud’s bitters, alongside Christmas Pudding gin and a dash of absinthe homemade by Ian, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Slightly fuzzy-headed, we can’t quite identify why Siobhan’s was better, but we know it was.
“There’s no such thing as a bad cocktail,” she says. But there certainly is a skill to it. On the way out, we inevitably buy a few bottles to practice with at home. Hic.
Main image: Laura Evans