A distillation

foodprodSimoneNyetimberby Simone Sekers

RAISE a glass to the ever-increasing range of alcohols around at the moment. It started with gallant wine makers, bravely making the best of the then British weather (I’m thinking of 30  years ago now) and producing often tongue-raspingly acidic white wines that cost more than a premier cru white Burgundy.

How this has changed. Nyetimber sparkling wine kicked off a supper we were at the other day – fine and refined and more than a match for a lot of French champagnes. Somerset apple brandy is now an established fact, and beers proliferate, with wacky names and even wackier labels. My own favourite, Wild Beer, is sold along with Westcombe Cheddar in their lovely shop near Bruton, and I drink it every time I have lunch at the Roth Bar and Grill (at Hauser and Wirth Somerset).

I’m told that the cocktails are the things to go for there, but I’ve never been sold on so many flavours and alcoholic hits trapped in one glass, so I’ll take the enthusiastic words of a younger generation. Wild Beer, sharp and yeasty, is a fine accompaniment to the cooking there.

Gins are everywhere too, freshly flavoured not just with the aromatics we have been used to, but little extras to make you feel it has been distilled from somewhere near you. Conker, Dorset’s dry gin, adds ‘hand-picked New Forest gorse flowers’ plus elderberries, and samphire, to a heart of ‘Macedonian juniper’. Is this gin, or a recipe for a pork rub? At £36 for 70cl it’s too expensive to do anything with except dilute it with expensive tonic water.

foodprodSimoneconkerFom the home of Tarquin’s Dry Gin (Devon violets feature in this one), the South Western Distillary near Wadebridge is doing something that really is a first. Cornish Pastis (good pun, too) is the first such to be created in the UK. As lovers of aniseed in all its forms, we were introduced to this by a friend who first checked that we really did like all those drinks that you have on holiday in Greece or the south of France. The epitome of such places is that glass of a yellowish syrup that turns into a cloudy, refreshing, eventually intoxicating aniseed drink. The ice in the jug of water they bring with it melts fast in the hot sun, the dish of black olives glistens enticingly. The umbrella that casts its welcome shade over your table is labelled with the name of a sticky orangeade that is not the refreshment you crave. Only pastis will do.

foodprodSimonepastisThe day our friends introduced us to Cornish Pastis was hot and sunny, but in this case it was used to flavour the dish we were eating. This is one of my favourite of Yotam Ottolenghi’s chicken recipes, and a relatively simple one at that, as it contains, essentially chicken, clementines, fennel and a good slug of arak. Arak isn’t as easy to come by in Somerset as all that, so I buy a bottle of Ricard when in France and feel it’s a good substitute. What I don’t cook with we can drink. Now I don’t have to. Cornish Pastis is a knock-out, and much more interesting than gin. Buy it not from the distillery – there is no shop, and they don’t want visitors yet – but Great Western Wine in Wells have it, and I’m off to get a bottle as soon as I can. It is the distillation of many a good holiday.