An Oxfordshire gin palace in Woodstock
A dedicated gin bar has been created at the newly refurbished Feathers Hotel in Oxfordshire. Jon Perks has a soft landing.
Chris avoided the obvious. He didn’t try and do the Bogart “Of all the gin joints in the world...” line from Casablanca when we walked in – but then the new bar at The Feathers is not exactly your average gin joint. Besides, neither of us look like Ingrid Bergman. Or Bogey.
Part of a £1 million refurbishment at the four-star hotel in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the new dedicated gin bar boasts an impressive 53 gins (and counting) – from your good old Gordon’s dry gin (the world’s best seller) and other well-known favourites like Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray to the more unusual Strawberry Bank from Cumbria (damson gin), Right Gin (although Swedish in origin, it is distilled five times from US corn) and Bramley & Gage Sweet Sloe Gin.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Or should that be ice cube...
Deputy manager Chris Baigent was our host for a pre-prandial gin tasting session (well somebody has to do it), which he proudly began by serving the hotel’s signature Ultimate Gin & Tonic.
It’s not so much a G&T as a T&G; the £19.25 price tag (you may need a stiff drink simply to get over that) is so high as the drink features Q Tonic (£10.75 for a 187ml bottle) – hand-picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes and organic agave just two of the rare ingredients. Customers who order it are given the bottle and a scroll to take home.
While the tonic takes top billing price-wise, that’s not to say it overpowers everything else; the Blackwood’s 2007 60 per cent Vintage Dry Gin (made in small batches and packed with botanicals from the Shetlands) and ice cubes (made from natural mineral water from the neighbouring Blenheim Palace) combine with the mixer to make the smoothest experience since Sean Connery first uttered the words “Bond... James Bond”.
Incidentally, The Feathers cocktail list also includes a James Bond Martini – shaken, not stirred, for £12.
While we sipped our ‘Ultimates’, Chris took us through a few more of the unusual gins they stock. In the case of a few, if you weren’t told they were gin you’d be none the wiser.
The Saffron Gin from France is a wonderfully rich amber colour, with hints of cognac in both bouquet and taste. The Feathers’ head chef Marc Hardiman is already planning some special ice cubes containing tomato, basil and cucumber to accompany it. To be fair it’s pretty fine on its own.
Two more gins from left field are new arrivals; the three and five-year-old Zuidam gins from Holland look more like whisky in their short-necked stubby bottles, but, having been aged in sherry barrels, have a sweet taste and sharp tang to them. Wonderful.
Next is the classic Hendrick’s Gin and tonic with slices of cucumber – a drink The Feathers hope will become ‘the new Pimms and lemonade’ for guests. Wonderfully refreshing, it’s the perfect end to our tasting session as we head into dinner.
Food at The Feathers is no less impressive; Hardiman and his team offer à la carte or seven course tasting menu, which includes such delights as diver scallops with cauliflower, raisins and sherry, a mean (as in good) cheese board – and a belt-loosening dessert of souffle and ice cream side order.
Sadly the bottle of Wees’ Very Old Genever gin Chris had shown us earlier remained in the fridge where he’d put it to chill.
We retired to our room – or, rather, suite, replete and more than content.
There are 21 rooms at the hotel, which have all benefited from the refurb; flat screen TVs, eye catching (in a good way) art on the walls, antique furniture, the combination works really well – while our huge sleigh bed and its soft cotton sheets made for a wonderful night’s sleep.
Staff at The Feathers couldn’t be nicer; naturally cheery, very good at their job, they make the stay a delight.
Woodstock is a cosy little place, with a nice selection of independent shops and pubs (the banks appear to be the only chains), with Blenheim Palace right next door should you want more to do – and are prepared to part with the £18 entry fee.
But then, with 53 gins to work your way through at The Feathers, why would you want to?
* Travel Facts
The Feathers Hotel, Woodstock: Room rates: Woodstock Room from £165; Cotswold Room from £195; suites from £315
The hotel is celebrating its recent four-star status with a special offer (available until June 30). From just £79 per person per night – Dinner, Bed & Breakfast. The package includes: Complimentary Cucumber Martini or Hendrick’s gin & tonic; accommodation in a Woodstock double bedroom, a delicious three course dinner in the restaurant and full English breakfast.
This offer is based upon two people sharing a double bedroom and is subject to availability.
Tel: 01993 812 291