I love a spirit with a story, and Shackleton Whisky is a cracker.
It all started in 1907 when the Polar Explorer, Ernest Shackleton launched his bid to be the first person to reach the Geographic South Pole. The trip, known as ‘Nimrod’ was in part a success, but Shackleton abandoned it with just 97 nautical miles to go. Although he didn’t succeed, Shackleton returned to Britain a hero.
Fast forward to 2010 when the Antarctic Heritage Trust in New Zealand began to restore his abandoned base camp. Conservators found five crates under the ice. Three contained Mackinlay’s whisky and two contained brandy. Eleven bottles of the 114-year old whisky were still in their paper and straw packaging, albeit frozen.
Three bottles were flown from New Zealand, to undergo both sensory and organoleptic analysis.
In April 2011, Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender, replicated the century-old whisky and gave it the same name as the original, Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt and The Journey, was released soon after. Now, a no-age-statement blend, inspired by Shackleton and his love of Mackinlay’s Scotch. A small percentage of each sale goes directly to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.
Tim Jarvis is the global brand ambassador for Shackleton Whisky. In 2013 the environmental explorer and motivational speaker recreated Shackleton’s dangerous 1914-17 Trans-Antarctic Expedition – known as one of the greatest small-boat journeys undertaken.
The whisky is a mix of single Highland malts, stored in ex-bourbon barrels and Spanish sherry butts. And, for £40 for a litre bottle, I think you’re getting a lot for your money. It’s a tasty number. On the nose, you get hints of demerara sugar and malted cinnamon. On the palate, it’s orange, apple and honey. It’s a short finish with hints of Werther’s Originals and marmalade.
I have a thing for whisky, take a look at my visit to Islay.
I just can’t keep up with the amount of gin being made here in the UK. But good gin is a different kettle of spirit and well worthy of note. Get a pen and paper because you’ll want to write this down … Pothecary Gin.
The spare bedroom takes on many uses, but one particular house in Bournemouth used theirs to house a 35-litre copper still. It’s here Pothecary Gin began life. After a lengthy process, HMRC granted them the licence to distill their spirit. From here, they began developing the gin that is picking up well-respected awards all over the world. Lukasz Dwornik and Martin Jennings had, like we’ve all had I’m sure, a gin and tonic at the local which didn’t taste of well …. anything. They decided to develop their gin which began life rather crudely, now their spirit is very much the opposite.
In their 35-litre copper still, they distill Bulgarian-grown Juniper, and in a 3.5-litre pot still, they distill their botanicals. It’s blended and watered down to drinking strength and bottled. Those botanicals are quite unusual. Provencal lavender brings savoury notes, mulberries, sweet and jammy taste, tilia flowers, honey and Sicilian lemon a little sweet-tartness. They’ve dabbled in a limited edition Sicilian Blend which takes the base and adds Sicilian orange peel, almonds and Gentian root. I bet this is a winner, orange citrus on the nose with lemon at the back and the every present Juniper. They’ve made only 982 bottles.
The Dordogne is often called the land of a thousand and one Castles. Its landscape of rolling green hills and lush river valleys will take your breath away. It boasts ten of the ‘Most Beautiful Villages in France’ and has an underground maze of crystal caves. This area of south-west France has been attracting humans for 450,000 years. You can visit the most famous of them all, the Lascaux, nicknamed the prehistoric Sistine Chapel. Rocamadour has been a pilgrimage route for thousands of years and is in the top five of the most visited attractions in France.
In the town of Lacave, Châteaux de la Treyne is a four-star luxury Hotel. It’s surrounded by walnut groves, vineyards and acres of open fields. In this small corner of south-west France, my fairy tale becomes a reality. If the walls could talk, there’d be tales of Lords, Knights and Maidens in distress. The Château stands on the site of the original 14th Century property, reduced to a pile of ashes during the Wars of Religion. It was rebuilt in 1553; it’s owned and run by the Gombert family who’ve transformed it into a modern-day haven of peace.
Each of the 17 rooms and suites has a unique, French style. Some offer fantastic views of the Dordogne River, others of the formal perfumed garden. I stay in two Rooms, La Tour and one of the suites, Louis XIII, and feel a lot like Rapunzel with all the mod-cons.
A courtesy tray is overflowing with local products from chocolates to seasonal fresh fruit and there’s a handwritten welcome note from the owners.
Bathrooms have multi-jet showers, thick fluffy robes, slippers and orange-scented toiletries by Hermes.
It’s hard not to be seduced by the food coming out of Stéphane Andrieux’ kitchen. He’s held a Michelin star since 2001. It’s a classic formal experience eating in the wood-panelled Grand Louis XIII Salon, less so on the picturesque cliff terrace.
Try the pan-roasted Foie gras with a walnut and sesame crust, green apple jelly and a Granny Smith apple sorbet. There’s a varied selection of local wines to compliment the dishes, including the famous Black Wine from nearby Cahors. You’ll need an empty stomach and deep pockets for this experience, but food lovers will pay many times over for this kind of service. Meals are a marathon and not a sprint, from anywhere between four and six courses, you can spend three hours eating and drinking. Amuse bouche, palate cleansers, the main course, cheese and dessert; it’s not for the faint-hearted. Breakfast, should you have room after dinner, can be taken in your room, or in the Green Salon with views to the French formal garden.
There’s a heated outdoor swimming pool, surrounded by 120 hectares of gardens and woodland. Perfect for chilling out with the soundtrack of nature for company.
The Hotel has beehives hidden away, in the meadow, you’ll taste it during your stay and can buy a jar to take the memory home with you.
Although the Dordogne is inland, where it lacks in the sea department, it makes up for in freshwater swimming and fly-fishing. If relaxation isn’t your thing, then the Hotel’s owner Stephanie will organise the itinerary for you.
There’s a 2-night fly-fishing package on offer (€582 to include half-board accommodation based on 2 sharing and a ½-day fly-fishing lesson on the Dordogne). Suitable for all abilities from complete beginner to expert.
If you’re planning on tying the knot, you may want to consider using the Chapel. The Châteaux is able to accommodate your guests, and the booking would be for sole use. They can cater for 40 guests. For cocktail receptions, they can cater a seated dinner for up to 70. If your burgeoning list keeps growing, you can rent a marquee, along with tableware and silverware, then they’ll take on up to 150 guests.
The family also own and run Château du Bastit which overlooks a nearby hamlet. It’s a private residence which sleeps ten adults and four children. It has all the exclusivity of a private home with the benefits of à la carte hotel services.
Chateau de la Treyne offers double rooms priced from €300 (Room only, based on 2 sharing. Breakfast is €28; add €124 to upgrade to half-board. Price is subject to availability and valid for 2017 (open from March 25 to November 12 and Christmas and New Year). All prices correct, July 2017.
There aren’t enough adjectives to describe this turreted fairytale chateau in south-west France, but I’m going to try my best. Chateau de la Treyne clings precariously to a cliff, surrounded by a vast forest, Marie Antoinette-esque perfumed rose gardens and a mesmerising expanse of water. It’s in the middle of nowhere, in Lacave to be precise, so a car is a must. Its location is well placed to explore some of the must-see tourist hotspots this area has to offer. It dates back to the 14th century but has moved with the times.
The Chateau has been an ongoing, and clearly expensive project for the owners who have lovingly restored the property and its rooms. I stay in a turreted suite which has a view like no other. I can see the River from all sides. There’s a huge bed, an even bigger bathroom, multi-jet shower and products from Hermès. I think there was a television but who needs that when there’s the sound of nature to enjoy. The Michelin-starred restaurant is formal and dining on the terrace less so and if you get an opportunity to take your meals here, do.
The food is impressive, all from the local larder making the most of the seasons. The plates of food are entire works of art, and it seems a shame to dive in and spoil the hard work, but the temptation’s too big.
As a food-lover this is such a good time to visit, this region’s larder is always overflowing, and in June, there’s an abundance of strawberries, cherries, walnuts and prunes. Always prunes.
I jumped a Ryanair flight from Stansted. A bit of a pain to get to from West London but if you book early, you may be able to secure a good price. The hire car I booked with Sixt, through the airline’s website and it was the cheapest I could find. The Airport in France is Brive-la-Gaillarde, and it’s a straight run to Lacave via the B roads.
The local Market is a must, and the next main town to where I’m staying is Souillac. Theirs is on Friday morning, and I’m there early to wander through the stalls of the local growers. From Poussin to peaches, truffles to tomatoes. It’s the region for duck and like it or loathe it, Foie gras. I’m fascinated by a truffle seller, and in my rusty school French, I buy a black truffle to take home. The vendor sniffs a series and finds the freshest from his basket of earthy-smelling bumpy black orbs for me to buy.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
There are at least three reasons to visit Rocamadour. Firstly it’s an important pilgrimage destination and has been for 1000 years. Secondly, it’s entirely Instagramable, and thirdly it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of France’s most famous tourist destinations. It’s quite a strain on the knees; there are an awful lot of steps (216), so you’ll be pleased to hear they’ve carved a lift out of the rock which transports you from top to bottom.
Cheese is another reason you should visit the town. Small, medallion sized discs of Goat cheese hail from this area. You’ll find it on every good cheese trolley; it’s full of flavour with a cream and hazelnut taste which melts in the mouth. Produced from unpasteurised milk from a process which dates back to the 15th century. Visit the factory and buy it from source.
Wine. Yes. Plenty of it and luckily, Cahors isn’t too far away. Vines there were planted by the Romans, and some date back to around 50BC, so there’s a chance they’ve got a good grip on making decent vino. I can wholly recommend the Malbec. The straw wine has been part of the local heritage since the Middle Ages and is made from drying both red and white grapes naturally. Also called Honey of the Muse and is often served as an aperitif or with cheese and Foie gras.
Did I say when I visit, there’s a heatwave? No? Well, when the Mercury hits the forties the best place to be is underground, and luckily the caves are worth a visit here. Locally, it’s Grottes De Lecave, and a guided tour takes you to ten different caves with incredible rock formations, further afield one of the greatest chasms in Europe is Gouffre de Padirac. A small boat takes you through a series of caves formed over millions of years; there’s a pretty impressive 60m high stalactite.
Do I love visiting a well-tended garden? Absolutely and there are quite a few in the region. Head towards Sarlat to be wowed by Le Jardin d’Eyrignac a breathtaking collection of topiary. The display ranges from animal shapes to the more adventurous use of plants. What’s more incredible is that everything is clipped by hand.
The Great Outdoors
A river runs straight through it, so there’s every kind of watersport on offer from canoeing, fly fishing or river swimming.
There are also quite a few MAMIL on bikes too (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). They’re doing their very best to recreate sections of the Tour de France. Incidentally, the region hosts the post-rest day stage to Bergerac in the second week.
For those who like to walk, there are hundreds of hiking paths around the region. Interestingly, three routes meander around the Valley on the way to Santiago de Compostela: The Via Arverna, the Way of Rocamadour and the Way of Puy en Velay.
A final word on the Chateau. No matter how much you spend on renovation, it simply won’t work without the service. Here, you get it in spades with charm, a smile and you leave with a need to return. In my case, it was as soon as the plane hit the tarmac in Stansted.
I don’t need to remind you Dear Reader that I have a passion for gin. Not your run-of-the-mill, bog-standard, supermarket gin. Now, I’m not dismising it because it has a place in every drink but I like gins with a story. Saturday 10th June is World Gin Day and here is my list of favourites.
I love that Brighton got fully behind the gin revolution and their organic British grain spirit isn’t one to miss. The first legal distillery in the City, locals have made Brighton Gin their own, and it’s on sale in over 100 stockists from The Grand Hotel to independent off-licences. It’s not hard to miss.
I love everything about the packaging, the blue which is the same colour as the promenade railings, the wax top, the label printed on a bus ticket from yesteryear. Look closer, and you’ll see the Brighton Pavilion and some reasons why it’s Gin from the Sussex seaside City. Expect milk thistle, juniper, coriander seed, fresh orange peel, lime and angelica root. The distillery team recommends tonic with a slice of orange. Warm citrus notes give the gin a softer side in the mouth, but the juniper and milk thistle remains apparent. Perfect with tonic, it works well in a Martini, sipped over ice with a slice of orange, and their take on The Aviation isn’t too shabby either. They’ve kindly shared one of their cocktail recipes with me for World Gin Day.
World Gin Day Cocktail Recipe
A delicious creation from Scott Mather, the Head Bartender of RustiKo on Soho’s Old Compton Street
50ml Brighton Gin
25ml Violette Britottet
Juice of a lemon
10ml Maraschino Luxardo Liqueur
Shake over ice and serve with cocktail cherry with stem.
If you can lay your hands on them, treat yourself to a jar of Luxardo Maraschino cherries.
Gin Mare is what I’d call a savoury gin. It’s from Spain, Barcelona to be precise, heavy on the herbs and most likely served with smashed Basil and a sweet tomato. It joins a very short list of herb gins on the market, and the botanicals include basil, rosemary, olives and thyme. See what I mean about savoury? Mr’s favourite gin and now a regular favourite in our household.
A little closer to home, my home, in London I have two fantastic distilleries Sipsmith and Silent Pool one in Chiswick, the other in Albury.
Silent Pool is a floral and fresh gin and a ‘holdtheanchoviesplease’ staple. If it needed a label, it would fit into the floral gin category. There’s a bold sweet elderflower on the initial sip, overtaken by citrus and pepper. Not overly complicated with the taste of Juniper either. It’s a well balanced, subtle gin, served with a sliver of orange peel in a gin and tonic.
If you want to know more about this fantastic gin, made in the most unexpected place, have a look at this short video I made of the Distillery.
Sipsmith is another cracker.
There’s a great menu of ingredients in this London Dry Gin which is spicy and full of character. Perfect Martini gin. Juniper Berries, Coriander seed, Angelia, Liquorice, Orris, almond, cassia bark, cinnamon, orange and lemon peel are the botanicals involved, but it’s few that play a starring role. The liquorice cleverly balances out the tannins in the other botanicals. Expect a deep juniper note with a citrus kick that keeps on punching its way through. Rounded and smooth it’s a mixer and a sipper. Serve with a decent tonic and a generous wedge of lime. Even though the brand’s been snapped up recently by Beam Suntory, the world’s third-largest spirits company, the trio of founders are still overseeing the business. A bottle of this and I promise you’ll not go wrong.
For a little magic, Sharish is a gin to wow.
From Portugal, this gin begins blue and ends up a beautiful pink when the pH balance changes. This happens when you add tonic to the alcohol. So much fun, the ‘magic’ happens because the distiller uses a blue pea flower in the distillation. But it’s not just the wow factor that helps it onto my Gin List for World Gin Day. This gin is smooth, full of citrus notes and has a marvellous apple aroma. Botanicals include juniper, coriander seeds, cinnamon, clove, bourbon vanilla, apple, lemon verbena, orange and lemon peel. More about its colour-changing properties here.
I love this story. Pothecary started life in a spare bedroom in Dorset. Two friends were fed up with rubbish gin in bars and decided to do something about it. They made what they thought was an alright mix, entered it into the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016 expecting some honest expert feedback and landed a double-gold. I should mention that they’ve added a couple of IWSC Silvers to that by the way. To an English grain base, they make each botanical separately – all hand-foraged, in essence, organic and include Lavender from Provence, Anatolian mulberries, Tilia flowers wild-foraged in Poland and of course Juniper, without forgetting the Sicilian Lemon – before blending them together. It’s smooth enough to be sipped neat, but stands its ground in a G&T. I loved it in a Negroni.
I’m sure they’ll be double the list next year. Let me know your thoughts on my select list and your favourite gin.