Thursday, December 4, 2008

Out of Africa (aka Gin-novations)

What's your tipple of choice? If you rarely stray far from your familiar glass filler, there's a worthy cause that might nudge you into a detour, out of your comfort zone. The spirit of adventure took me, a couple of nights ago, when I went out to explore the new world of gin with a merry band of celebrated bloggers.

Whitley Neill is an award-winning boutique gin - voted drink brand of 2008 by UK Vogue. It's a spirit with a warm heart - authentic - but with a sun-infused difference. Influenced by his wife's African roots, creator Johnny Neill was inspired to add a touch of the exotic. The signature botanical is the fruit of the versatile Baobab tree. A percentage of each bottle sale is donated to Tree Aid (a charity born out of Live Aid, whose brilliantly practical purpose is to empower indigenous African people - young and old - to find happy long-term solutions to drought-induced crop depletion).

Last summer, Johnny pursued the theme, launching the Top of the Tree Cocktail Challenge. The competition encouraged creative bar professionals to produce the ultimate Whitley Neill concoction, encompassing at least one tree-based ingredient (with a donation made to Tree Aid for each example sold). So, we festive bloggers (Timinator, Tikichris, Foodstories, Chris, Lizzie, Niamh, Melanie, and I) merrily sipped and savoured our way through an élite selection, as we gin-cruised (relatively soberly) through four venues.

The Lobby Bar, at One Aldwych, prepared my two tree-topping stars of the night. Carolin Weise's Africa is perfectly seasonally apt, suffused with warm spicy flavours. Bar Manager, Roberto de Vivo's cheekily titled Lost Cherry is a female take on the Martini - ideal for injecting a sunny influence into long dark winter's nights - redolent with fragrant summer elements of cherry and rose. The recipes will follow shortly...

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