Stories, Sustainability

Meet the Mixer

3rd June 2024

Dressed in baker cap, sleeve garters, sweater vest and tie, Sam makes a striking impression behind the bar. His mission is simple: provide a warm welcome; start a conversation; get a drink into your hand. As the Creative Bar Manager for Daylesford Stays, Sam is responsible for the technical development of our seasonal drinks menus and taking our guests on a journey of cocktail discovery.

What led you to a career in cocktails?

Almost a decade ago, having graduated from agricultural university, I quickly realised that working in the rural sector wasn’t for me. I’ve always had hospitality around me – my parents own a guest house in the country – and as a young man I enjoyed going out to nice cocktail bars. So I decided to move to New York for an intensive month-long bar tending course followed by several months of research learning how the bars of NYC’s cocktail scene operated. On my return to Cheltenham, I worked for a boutique hotel and worked up from bartender to bar manager looking after seven bars.

What was the brief coming here?

Fun, informal, cool. Bring the city cocktail experience to the Cotswolds. Drinks are the fun side of hospitality, and I like the opportunity to celebrate that. There’s a time and place to be serious, but cocktails are for enjoying with friends and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. That said, they should also have thought behind them and the menus are heavily driven by seasonality and sustainability.

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How has sustainability shaped your menus?

Seasonality and the availability of ingredients in Daylesford’s market garden is a key driver, but one of the first goals was to make key cocktail components more sustainable. To create a litre of lime juice you’d usually expect to use 30-50 limes, which are generally sourced from Mexico. Our sustainable lemon and lime juice uses just four or five fresh limes rested in citric and malic acids to make an intense sour syrup that is blended, diluted and filtered to produce the same volume, and it is hard to tell the difference. Similarly, we have switched to a vegan ‘miraculous foamer’ to replace egg whites and avoid yolk waste while maintaining the same velvet mouth feel that guests expect. For sweeteners, we’re lucky to be able to use Daylesford honey instead of sugar in some cocktails such as the Bee’s Knees.

How do you tackle waste?

The bar works closely with the kitchen and a few of our summer cocktails have been created to utilise discarded ingredients and maximise their value. At The Fox, for example, our Strawberry Sour is made by infusing strawberry tops from the kitchen in Campari to balance its bitterness, before adding Daylesford vodka and bitter apple. Another favourite, the Bajan Persuasion, infuses pineapple skins (from the pizza menu) overnight with rum, combined with our sustainable lemon/lime juice, falernum and coconut milk.

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How much effort goes into preparing the cocktails in advance?

Planning is very important. Our menus are split 70:30 between what we think guests will really enjoy and a more creative, innovative selection that the team can get passionate about and engage with guests to explore. Infusions can take time, but advance preparation allows us to standardise the flavours and guarantees consistency for our guests. Take a spicy Margarita for example – if the chili was crushed to order, there would be varying levels of spice across different drinks. By laying the groundwork early and creating a chili-infused tequila we can dictate how many parts to use in the recipe to deliver the right kick no matter who is making the drink.

What do you think is the most important part of the guest experience?

The bar is the most prominent area in our pubs, and the bartenders are the face of the brand. Although we have a menu, we prefer to engage with the guest and talk through their preferences to make a recommendation. This enriches and personalises the guest journey, allowing the team to explain the process of making the drink and the ethos behind it. We begin the storytelling on behalf of the wider pub team, so that by the time guests sit down in the restaurant, they are more engaged and at ease to interact with their server. Collectively we share a goal to deliver the best possible experience.

Our bars are generously stocked with wines from independent vineyards, craft beers and local ales, as well as an extensive selection of spirits. We also have a short menu of signature seasonal cocktails, from sours and lighter drinks made with fruits from our heritage orchard, to smokier, richer or champagne-based cocktails. Settle in by the log fire or take your drink on to our sunny terraces and gardens on warmer days, we want you to relax and make yourself at home.

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