When we opened the doors of Augill Castle seventeen years ago we did so with pretty much no idea of what we were taking on, either in terms of maintaining a large rambling country house or sharing it with the paying public.
We’ve innovated, reinvented and relaunched ourselves several times during that time, often pout of neccessity, sometimes by the seat of our pants. But this idea promises something rather special…
It’s the eve of something big. For many years we have championed the use of local, seasonal food, local crafts people and local staff. We have always believed that it is inherently best to look for everything we need to run our business first in the local community, followed by the neighbouring counties and then, unless there is a good argument otherwise, to Britain.
So, we have a locally sourced menu, locally made furniture and cutlery and crockery made in Britain (both now increasingly rare). There are exceptions, of course – if we were slaves to local seasonality we’d be eating nothing but parsnips, potatoes and sprouts for nine months of the year.
The trouble is, customers now expect this sort of sustainable procurement as standard so we have extended the principle to our bar and tomorrow we launch The Great British Bar at Augill Castle.
it is a simple, slightly bonkers concept: if we can do it with food, why not get everything for a fully stocked bar from Britain. To make things easier for ourselves we decided to use small, artisan, family owned producers wherever possible.
We have been on a national tour to meet producers, all of whom, to a man and woman, are crackers (you’d have to be to try to grown wine for a living in Britain) but all of whom are passionate about what they do, produce cracking drinks and, frankly, need our support.
So, tomorrow we throw open our doors to a new concept in barking where everything from the spirits and liqueurs to the beer, cider and perry to the soft drinks and mixers is made in Britain.
There have been some challenges. Red wine is not one of Britain’s strong suits and rum seems to be in short supply. But there is no shortage of whisky, gin, vodka and all their derivatives with plenty of experimentation along the way.
There have been some surprises too. Sussex vermouth which frankly knocks socks off anything commercially produced and takes a dry martini to a whole new level, an espresso martini liqueur from a genius distiller in the Cotswolds who looks hardly old enough to drink but whose enthusiasm and skill are infectious.
Six months in, it remains to be seen how the public will take to our crazy idea but so far the signs are good. If they take to it, I can see a fleet of mobile Great British Bars hitting festivals, sporting events, beaches and parks in the next few years. If they don’t, well, I know what makes a cracking espresso martini and the perfect proportions for the best ever G&T and we’ve got the best beds in which to sleep it all off.