When asked to conjure up romantic images of the Quintessentially British summer garden party, many of us might think of Downton Abbey or perhaps (if we're a little older) Brideshead Revisited. We may think of elegant picnics and afternoon teas on a manicured lawn or livelier scenes with Bright Young Things sipping cocktails and dancing up a storm in the grounds of a historic stately home.
As a Master Gin Distiller I'm constantly looking for inspiration from gardens. I always use natural botanicals in my gins and, even with forty years of gin distilling under my belt, there is nothing more inspiring than to find a new ingredient growing in some historic garden that perhaps I can utilize for a new gin or as a garnish for a cocktail.
When the weather is fine - not always a given - nothing beats a summer's day in England and I have gathered a few tips over the years that make for the ingredients of a garden party that will go with a swing.
1) The Perfect Summer Party Setting - A Secret Garden
Not all of us are lucky enough to have access to a secret garden or a garden of our own but the appreciation of plants and getting green fingered is of the moment right now - you only need to look at the young guys who did so brilliantly at the world renowned RHS Chelsea Flower show this year.
For those who haven't access to fragrant plants or a private outdoor space, a secret garden in a public park could be a great way to toast the summer with friends. I personally love Bonnington Square Garden, which is a stone's throw from where I work in Kennington, South London - I get some of my best ideas taking time out there- but there are many other gems out there waiting to be discovered by you.
2) Party Etiquette
The British are very keen on issuing formal invitations to events and also writing a card to thank their host afterwards. Why not share a beautiful e-card invitation or mail a printed card to guests the traditional way to demonstrate thoughtfulness and sophistication.
A thank you card - rather than text or email - also embraces a standard of etiquette the British aristocracy would approve of.
Both Gin and Tea are quintessentially British drinks that were made popular throughout the world by the British Empire. Tea came to England in the mid-17th century, the same era in which gin caught on.
Today super premium gin is enjoying a huge resurgence in popularity and the British spirit is fast catching on in countries ranging from Spain and the USA to Turkey and Japan - and it's perfect for summer.
For your Quintessentially British summer garden party why not combine both gin and tea and serve a very modern afternoon cocktail. The tea, naturally, has to be English breakfast.
Beefeater 24 Gin & Tea Cocktail Recipe
Beefeater 24 with home-made lemon iced tea. Long and refreshing.
Beefeater 24 50ml
Chilled English Breakfast Tea 75ml
Sugar syrup 10ml
Pour all ingredients into a high ball glass over cubed ice. Squeeze lemon wedge into glass & discard. Stir and garnish with a lemon wheel.
Celebrated chef, restaurateur and food writer Mark Hix is known for his original take on British gastronomy and for summer parties he looks to ingredients such as beetroot, salmon and beef to create bite size canapés that are easy to prepare and go wonderfully with gin. He's also just created a delicious, contemporary take on the Scotch egg - my favorite - and lemon meringue pie - all of which are being showcased right now http://www.hixter.co.uk until September.
These are just a few ideas to make your entertaining an authentic but modern adaptation of the quintessentially British summer party. I'm personally looking forward to entertaining my family and friends in my garden in South West London - roll on the summer - and enjoy!
NB. Bring Panama hats, umbrellas and extra gin. Just in case...