Dorset has long been famous for its breweries. Places like Palmers in Bridport and Piddle in Dorchester are just as much a part of the landscape as the rolling hills and gorgeous coastline. In fact, many breweries are almost as old as the hills – think of the of Woodhouses of Woodhouse & Hall, for instance, who’ve been in operation since 1777. Over the past few years, however, the county has diversified. No longer content with making world-class ales, Thomas Hardy’s Wessex is starting to make chic spirits with classy twists. And many are only a short drive from the award-winning Acorn Inn, situated in the picturesque village of Evershot and The Summer Lodge nearby.
Gin often features numerous botanicals, but rarely does it contain hits of watercress or wasabi. However, these unusual ingredients are a great complement to gin’s distinctive juniper base and are also responsible for the company’s name. Watercress, called “Nasturtium” by the Romans and grown near the (Hampshire) distillery in Winchester since the 18th century, means “twisted nose” and is combined with lavender in their Dry Gin to bring something of an English summer to the palate. Combine with a twist of pink grapefruit for a rainbow of refined flavours.
Helmed by Jason Barber, a west Dorset dairy farmer, Black Cow takes whey from the milk his cows produce and ferments it. After distillation, the vodka possesses an incredibly smooth, almost creamy character, which makes it perfect for drinks where it can sing solo – a martini, for example. The alcohol has won awards in the chocolate department, too. This is thanks to a team-up with Purbeck chocolatiers Claire and Andy Burnet, who spotted the vodka at a River Cottage fair and started adding it to their ganache for chocolate with a punch.
The orchards of Dorset have historically supplied the county’s cider presses with some great Scrumpies. And now, their sweet apples are being captured by Porters Distillery to create a golden vodka. Inspired by a trip to Modena, where the founder’s friends were making apple balsamic vinegar, Liberty Fields uses Jurassic spring water, wheat grain and its deep red heritage apples to make a vodka with a long, sweet finish.
Best mates Martin Jennings and Lukasz Dwornik were sick of average G&Ts, so they tried out 90 different botanicals to work out what sort of oomph the conventional range lacked. Eventually whittling down their ingredients to five – Bulgarian juniper, Anatolian mulberries, Provencal lavender, Sicilian lemons and linden blossom – the over-riding flavour has a marmalade quality. Tip: such a big hitter on the floral front is best mixed with a big, bright, bitter Negroni.
While Dorset’s hardly known for its exotic flora (being trumped by Kent “the Garden of England” to the east and semi-tropical Cornwall to its west), it is spoilt with one wonderfully fragrant plant: gorse. Smelling of coconuts or suntan lotion (depending on who you ask), Richard Holloway had the idea to mix it with samphire and elderberry to create a new gin. Produced in an old Victorian laundry in Southbourne since 2013, Richard’s two-man band have created a beast that’s best paired with salmon gravalax or some mature cheddar.
What do you do if you don’t know how to utilise the waste beer of a brewery? Start a vodka was Cristophe’s answer! A brewer at the Bournemouth Brewery, he started to distil the beer in early 2015 and soon found himself producing “vodka beer”. Described as one of the world’s first truly sippable vodkas, its smooth, mellow flavours mean it’s best drunk on its own.
If you want to try any of these innovative spirits, brimming with local ingredients, why not get a little closer to the action by booking a night or two at the Acorn Inn or The Summer Lodge – a home away from home.