Sunday, 1 September 2013

Chase me to Hotel du Vin

It was months ago that I spotted an advertisement for a Chase Distillery dinner at Hotel du Vin Cheltenham, though at £65 per person it seemed a litle steep. Nevertheless, bills and mortgage aside, the fact that Chase is responsible for making some of my favourite drinks meant that I had to go. After much anticipation, a few Thursday's ago, just before the last Bank Holiday of the year, it finally took place.

It was such a beautiful evening, and as we arrived we were informed that we would be dining al fresco in the hotel's 'secret garden'. Crisp white clothed tables were laid out in a semi circle with the pop-up style bar, lined up with Chase spirits, taking centre stage. There weren't many attendees, probably around 15, and with a 'Chasing Elder-bubble' cocktail in hand, we chatted whilst being served canapés and having photos taken by the Gloucestershire Echo.

Chasing Elder-Bubble: Muddled cucumber, William Chase Gin, lemon juice, elderflower syrup, topped with Prosecco. 

When seated, we were introduced to James Chase, son of William, the founder of the distillery, and the hotel's bar manager Ben, who was giving us various master-classes throughout the evening. We heard about how it all began, from farming to Tyrrell's crisps to making vodka, and how important it is to them to be producing hand-crafted spirits in the UK. This led nicely to our first course with cocktail pairing; smoked duck breast, black mission figs wrapped in prosciutto and a leafy salad, alongside 'Honey I Smoked the Kids'.

Honey I Smoked the Kids: Chase Smoked Vodka, fresh honey, créme de figue, vanilla syrup, pineapple juice topped with ginger ale.

The smoky salty food matched wonderfully with the refreshingly sweet drink; with so many flavour crossovers, it was clearly well thought out. Moving on, we heard more about the Herefordshire based Distillery, the processes that occur from field to bottle, and how they create their typically British single-estate spirits and liqueurs. Main course was an oven roast pave of stone bass, sat on a bed of herby risotto and a beurre blanc sauce, with 'The Passion of Lady Marmaduke'.

The Passion of Lady Marmaduke: Chase Marmalade Vodka, fresh orange juice, homemade orange marmalade, passion fruit syrup, lime juice and a white peach and passion fruit foam.

The making of this cocktail was quite tricky - a good ten minutes of shaking in order to transform an egg white and added extras, into a voluminous foam - so it seemed a bit of an odd choice considering it needed to be made for a large group of people. When they appeared at our tables, they didn't look as slick as the one that was demonstrated to us, instead, frothy white mountains piled high above the rims of each martini glass - however, comedy white tashes were enjoyed by all. This one, whilst rich in fruit flavours, was again pretty sweet, but an interesting contrast to the delicate fish/risotto combo, which unfortunately may have been sat out a little long, as the beurre blanc had a slight skin on top. That aside, it was still a pleasant dish.

The pre-dessert drink was the one which I was most looking forward to; 'Earl of Rhubarb' with a pear and lemon 'Naughty Jelly'.

Earl of Rhubarb: Chase Rhubarb Vodka, Earl Grey syrup, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice and elderflower syrup.

Being a massive lover of the rhubarb vodka (I have been known to have a cheeky tipple over ice after a long day), with Earl Grey being my tea of choice, and elderflower being a Summer favourite, I knew it was going to be good, and being served in a cute little jam jar made it even better. I've got a high tolerence when it comes to sour things, so if I was being picky, I'd have preferred it to have a bit more lemon juice, but the addition of sharp edible apple blossom made up for it. The jelly was nice, but felt more like an accompinament to the lovely cocktail.

As darkness fell, and tables were lit only by candles in chic lanterns, our final course was served. 'It's not Terry's, it's William's' paired with Crepes Suzette generously sozzled in orange and cognac sauce.

It's not Terry's, it's Wlliam's: Chase Seville Orange Gin, Grand Marnier, double cream and Mozart Gold.

Reading the ingredients of this cocktail, and even watching it being made, with plenty of cream and chocolate liqueur, I expected it to be quite sickly. However, as I sipped it - from a cup and saucer no less - I was surprised to find that it was probably the strongest tasting drink of the night, packing a bitter orange gin punch. That, with the gorgeously marmalade-y crepes, was a match made in heaven.

After a very boozy dinner, we did what anyone else would do - drink more. Hours later, we meandered home with extra knowledge in our minds and goodie bags in hand. Next stop, Chase cocktails at home courtesy of the lovingly packaged miniatures we were given, and inspirational cocktail ideas.

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