A sneak peek into Gillray’s wondrous world of gin, with head bartender Sam Mitchell
I love gin! I am crazy about this British spirit that has had a recent renaissance, or as Olivia Williams, in her book Gin Glorious Gin says “a ginaissance,” over the past seven years.
Gin has always been important in my family, with my great granddad, Charles Tucker Braithwaite, the Mayor of Lewisham from 1954-55 keeping his false teeth in gin overnight because ‘he liked the taste in the morning’ or my Grandad teaching me how to make a Gin Martini at the age of 12. I am lucky enough to continue our family love of gin as I am now Head Bartender of Gillray’s at Marriott County Hall and have had the pleasure of growing our gin collection to over 100 different varieties.
Gone are the days where we just had the classics to choose from such as Gordons, Bombay and Tanqueray - good as they are, we now have hundreds of gins at our fingertips, each with varying flavours and botanicals, much as it was in London 300 years ago. And for this reason, I always get asked how I select the gins for the bar, but the answer is simple – I must be confident that our guests will enjoy it and I also ensure the product will showcase the history and/or craft of gin making in some shape or form.
I tend to look for locally sourced and regionally focused gin such as Cotswold’s Dry Gin which uses lavender from fields in the Cotswold’s to make a florally complex profile. Other favourites of mine include the perfectly balanced Silent Pool Gin made with locally sourced honey, chamomile and water from a pool next to their distillery and Scapegrace Gin from New Zealand who have their distillery at the bottom of a mountain in order to get the cleanest possible water.
I’m also a huge fan of sloe gin, which I’ve introduced at Gillray’s. Sloe gin is gin that has had sugar and sloe berries added and has been left to infuse for 3-12 months - the finished flavour is sweet with almond and bitter berry notes – perfect for someone who says they don’t like gin. I was lucky to have tasted an old sloe gin forgotten in my Aunt’s cellar - it was five years old and it tasted amazing with hints of sherry from the ageing of the fruits. I took this idea along with inspiration from a James Gillray sketch called “Uncorking Old Sherry” to create our bar’s signature cocktail of the same name.
I acquired a mini oak barrel and added five bottles of sloe gin, three bottles of sherry and two bottles of cherry brandy. This mixture rested for six months and was then decanted into glass balloons. We then took a large measure of the mixture and add angostura bitters and ice which resulted in an amazing sloe gin cocktail which pairs brilliantly with cheese! It’s so popular I now make three batches a year.
I’m always working on something new whether that be flavour combinations or ingredients but the focus for Gillray’s this year is the classic Gin and Tonic – with such strong links to our imperial past, our aim is to offer a selection of unique twists for all of our guests to enjoy. I’m also extremely excited about the prospect of gin-infused food and have been working with our chefs in the restaurant on testing fusions of great British classics such as the trifle - watch this space!!!
This is the exact recipe my grandad taught me and one I always teach to every bartender at Gillray’s.
2 drops dry Martini
2 drops orange bitters
Pour into a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. My grandad used an old pint glass
Stir for 1 minute (never shake!)
Pour into a Martini glass
Zest with a lemon making sure to peel the lemon over the glass to capture the oils
Uncorking Old Sherry – James Gillray Original – Political Print from 1805
If you want to make your own Uncorking Old Sherry at home without ageing, simply do the following:
50ml Sloe gin
20ml Cherry Brandy
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Stir in a mixing jug or pint glass
Serve over ice or straight up with an orange twist.
By Sam Mitchell, Head Bartender at Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar
Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar is situated on the South Bank in London Marriott County Hall with views of London’s most iconic landmarks.
For more information visit: www.gillrays.com