By Seb Stott
Starting work at the Black Swan was an incredibly daunting time for me. To come and work at somewhere of such a high standard and reputation was a wonderful opportunity of course, but it was something that I went into being very, very nervous.
One of my biggest passions in life is the beverage side of the industry and within 5 minutes of arriving for my first day at work here I realised that the cocktail list is something quite incredible, using a set of weird and wonderful ingredients. Having never really worked with cocktails before, coming from a standard hotel bar background, I was amazed by some of the cocktails available and then fully blown away when I tasted them! The time and effort that Bea and the team had put in was remarkable and whilst adding to my nerves it gave me even more motivation to knuckle down and learn with the intention of getting my own creation on our illustrious blackboard!
My first few months were spent learning everything I could about all of our ingredients and spirits, and as much as I could about the garden. The garden is a wonderful source of all manner of potential ingredients, it’s like having the worlds best and freshest pantry!
My first few ideas and experiments I thankfully kept to myself! I actually had brief success with a very short lived warm Christmas cocktail, it went down well but I still wanted to get a permanent cocktail on the board. As the busy New Year period passed I decided to start concentrating my efforts, really knuckle down and decide on the sort of drink I wanted. After a few disasters and a lot of experimenting I felt confident to pitch my latest ideas to the team. The first decision that I made was an easy one, I wanted my base spirit to be Gin. Gin is my go to drink and I wouldn’t want my first cocktail to be made using anything else. My next idea came from a wander round the garden. I noticed that we had an abundance of Hidcote Lavendar available and realised that we weren’t using it on the menu at all.
but I had to decide how to use the Lavender in a drink. My first go to thought was to create a lavender syrup as I didn’t want to use much more alcohol on top of the gin I was already including. So the syrup was made and my drink was off and running.
I tried making it using very few ingredients but after consulting Bea decided to test it as a Sour style recipe. This worked wonderfully and gave the smooth creamy texture and flavour that you expect from a Sour, combined with the freshness and floral taste from the lavender and the gin. To really bring out the flavours I needed a fresh and floral gin and after examining/taste testing our gin list there was only ever really one option; Bloom.
Bloom is a beautiful gin providing fresh floral flavours with that wonderful traditional gin flavour as a backdrop. I built the cocktail and tested it on all of my colleagues and yet, whilst I received unanimously positive reactions I still felt something was missing. Back to the ingredient store I went and soon settled on what I thought was the missing link; Meadowsweet. We use a lot of meadowsweet due to it’s wonderfully, almost grass like, flavour. And I felt that just a touch of meadowsweet liqueur was the right way to go. This turned out to be true and as soon as I added just as little as 3 millilitres I knew I had my recipe.
Next was the presentation, and after a few experiments I settled on a simple traditional tumbler filled with ice and topped with a lavender sprig. The drink looked exactly as I wanted and with the go ahead from the rest of the team I had done it, I was going on the board. But what do I call it? As a huge fan of puns and witty names I knew I needed something subtle but clever and decided on something that I felt was reflective of the drink and our team here as a whole and went for ‘Wild ImaGINation’!
The experience of starting work here and working up to getting my first cocktail on the board has been a great learning curve and seeing an incredible public reaction to the drink has given me an incredible desire to keep experimenting and keep working towards getting drinks on the board and giving our customers fun and interesting cocktails to try!