Whitley-Neill Gin ‘Top of the Tree’ Cocktail Challenge.

Sigh. It’s a tough life being a food blogger. I mean, having to traipse around top London venues drinking fabulous cocktails, all based around the premium brand, multi-award winning Whitley-Neill gin. I mean, really. Earlier this year, Whitley-Neill threw down a challenge to create a cocktail based around the spirit, using only ingredients that originate from a tree (the gin is made with juniper berries and other natural stuff – hence the tree link), with the people at WN also donating some of the profits to Tree Aid. So, considering that I was drinking for a good cause, I thought it only right and proper to dive in head first.

As far as I am aware, the judging for the competition is currently in progress. In the meantime, a gaggle of lucky bloggers embarked on a mini crawl around the capital to sample the entries. Our first stop and meeting place was the lobby bar at One Aldwych – our first cocktail a spiced, warming creation named ‘Africa’, sweetened with a touch of amaretto. Despite the reference to far flung shores (Whitley Neill was inspired by Africa and contains two African botanicals), the cocktail was rather wintery with subtle scents of anise and cinnamon, a welcome tonic to the bitter weather outside (especially for me – I got lost, as usual). Continuing with the African theme, our second tipple, ‘Savannah Plain’ (top photo), was considerably sweeter than the first with a predominant flavour of mango and, although I enjoyed the sunny tropical vibe, it was a little on the syrupy side for my taste.

Still inside half an hour and we are on to our third, which I think was the ‘Maple Neill Kumquat’. You can hardly blame me if I get them mixed up now can you? Flavoured with maple syrup and kumquat, it tasted almost confected – sticky and jammy.

It was at this point that a plate of the most amazing buttery olives appeared that had us cooing for the next, ooh, twenty minutes over just how fantastic they were – Italian, apparently (according to the bartender), from ‘the heel of the boot’, to be precise (pointing to his heel in order to make the point clear). We could hardly express our delight over the olives through mouthfuls of juicy little physalis coated in caramel, like teeny weeny toffee apples but just better in every way.

Our fourth and final cocktail in the lobby was ‘The Lost Cherry’ (above), a rose and maraschino cherry perfumed mixture. Strong and scented like Turkish delight, it was delicious and, although I loved this (I adore the flavour of rose), I would have liked a touch more cherry – a little too ‘lost’ perhaps. A strong contender at this stage nonetheless.

Four cocktails down and on to the next venue, Quo Vadis. We were ushered upstairs to a rather swanky bar (think books, sofas, piano – one of those members places decked out like someone’s house) where the highlight of my evening was to occur – a skilfully hilarious rendition of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, on a piano. The pianist was really rather brilliant, actually and not camera shy, either.

The ripples of giggles in the room at this point were down to the combination of the piano playing, rapid gin consumption and these undeniably phallic ice cubes. Very mature, us bloggers.

Here we sampled two cocktails, the first, ‘Une Amandine’ featured elderflower (I would have liked a bit more but then I do love it) and a dash of absinthe (just what we needed..). Next up, my favourite cocktail of the evening – the ‘Reciprocal Cocktail’ – the most beautifully complex drink I have had the pleasure of quaffing in recent memory. Featuring flavours of licorice, pink peppercorns and grapefruit zest, the layers of flavour were really rather impressive (and no, I don’t normally prattle on about ‘layers’ and the like). I could have easily downed another and probably, another. It was so refreshing to taste a cocktail that wasn’t predominantly sweet and fruity.

Soldiering on to our next port of call, (Bureau at Kingly Court), we apparently crashed right into a speech by Dianne Abbott celebrating the election of Barack Obama, and most of us didn’t even notice! I blame the gin induced haze…Here we guzzled a ‘Tippler’s Tree’ (maple syrup, lime and chocolate bitters), followed by a ‘Passing Thyme’, (above – truly delicious and definitely my ‘runner up’, hooray for herbs in cocktails!) followed by a ‘Rise Marmalade’ (below), sweetly spicy and orange scented.

Our fourth and final destination was Match, where we finally caved to the hunger (none of us had eaten dinner) and ordered the (now typical in bars and pubs everywhere), arrangement of things on a wooden board, which was really rather average to be perfectly frank.

The cocktails here were ‘The Whitley Angel’, flavoured with rhubarb and lemon and ‘Whitley Bay’ with kaffir lime and sambuca which both sound fantastic although my memory of them is not entirely clear. To be honest, you guys were a bit unlucky coming in at the end. I mean, just look at how much gin we have consumed by this point. Good job we’re not the professional judges…

While the ‘Reciprocal’ was the clear winner for me, ‘Passing Thyme’ came a very close second and also planted the idea firmly in my head that I wish to enjoy herbs in my cocktails forever more. This was strengthened by the fantastic ‘raspberry’ sour’ with rosemary that Chris and I ordered (not part of the competition), because obviously we just hadn’t tried enough cocktails already….

The evening definitely opened my eyes to the versatility of gin and also to just what I’ve been missing by always ordering the same damn cocktails. I wish the best of luck to all the competitiors and thank you to all my blogging friends and peers for another lovely evening. (Lizzie, Niamh, Chris, Tim, tikichris, Annie, life on the edge and Melanie). Thank you also to Johnny Neill (creator of Whitley-Neill gin), Sally from Relish PR and of course to the bar tenders for contributing yet further to the demise of my liver with those fabulous drinks – what a way to go…

Category: Blogging Events, Drinks 6 comments »

6 Responses to “Whitley-Neill Gin ‘Top of the Tree’ Cocktail Challenge.”

  1. Peter

    During a long night of cocktail sampling, the need for the bartender to load up the garnishes is paramount…one forgets to eat! lol

    Peters last blog post..Heads & Tales: Fish Tails (and a Recipe)!

  2. tikichris

    Nice one! I love how you chronicled the night … and I think I pretty much agree with you on how the cocktails rank.

    tikichriss last blog post..ontoLondon

  3. Bellini Valli

    Tough job but somebody has to do it!!!

    Bellini Vallis last blog post..From Our House to Yours – With Our Favourite Recipes

  4. Helen

    Peter – Yes! Good idea, although I’m not sure any amount of garnish could offset all that gin!
    Chris – Thank you, I know you loved that rose and cherry combo :)
    Bellini Valli – Yes, it was SUCH a chore….

  5. Christie @ fig&cherry

    Those olives look amazing! Would love a nice martini to go with them.. ;) Looks like you had a fab time!

  6. koktelok info

    One martini for me too :)

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