Distillers Table 'Halloween'

The theme for our latest Distillers Table was ‘Halloween’. Like many other sessions before, we didn’t want to just create drinks using flavours that people expected. So we decided to also look at other death festivals from around the world and serve 3 drinks inspired by 3 different festivals.

#1 Halloween

We started close to home and the nearest to traditional Halloween flavours. Modern Halloween celebrations as we know it, are a mash up of lots of traditions from around the UK. We took our main inspiration from the Irish festival of ‘Samhain’ and the folk tale of ‘Stingy Jack’.

As the story goes, several centuries ago in Ireland, there lived a drunkard known as "Stingy Jack". Jack was known throughout the land as a deceiver, manipulator and an otherwise dreg of society. On a fateful night, Satan overheard the tale of Jack's evil deeds and silver tongue. Unconvinced (and envious) of the rumours, the devil went to find out for himself whether or not Jack lived up to his vile reputation.
Typical of Jack, he was drunk and wandering through the countryside at night when he came upon a body in his path. The body, with an eerie grimace on its face, turned out to be Satan. Jack realized somberly that this was his end; Satan had finally come to collect his soul. So Jack made a last request: he asked Satan to let him drink ale before he departed to Hades. Finding no reason not to allow this request, Satan took Jack to the local pub and supplied him with many alcoholic beverages. Upon quenching his thirst, Jack asked Satan to pay the tab and convinced Satan to transform into a silver coin with which to pay the bartender. Satan did so. Shrewdly, Jack then stuck the coin into his pocket, which also contained a crucifix. The crucifix kept Satan from escaping his new form. Satan now had to agree to Jack's demands: in exchange for Satan's freedom, he had to spare Jack's soul for ten years.
Ten years later to the day when Jack originally struck his deal, he naturally found himself once again in Satan's presence. Jack happened upon Satan in the same setting as before and he seemingly accepted it was now his time to go to Hades for good. As Satan prepared to take him to hell, Jack asked if he could have one apple to feed his starving belly. Foolishly Satan once again agreed to this request. As Satan climbed up the branches of a nearby apple tree, Jack surrounded its base with crucifixes. Satan, frustrated at the fact that he had been entrapped again, demanded his release. As Jack did before, he made a demand: that his soul never be taken by Satan into Hades. Satan agreed and was set free.
Eventually life took its toll on Jack, and he died. Jack's soul prepared to enter Heaven through the gates of St. Peter, but he was stopped. And Jack was told by God that because of his sinful lifestyle of deceitfulness, he was not allowed into Heaven. Jack then went down to the Gates of Hell and begged for admission into underworld. Satan, fulfilling his obligation would not take his soul. Then to warn others, he gave Jack an ember, marking him a soul of the netherworld. From that day on until eternity's end, Jack is doomed to roam the world between the planes of good and evil, with only an ember inside his hollowed turnip to light his way.

‘Samhain’ was celebrated on October 31st and people believed on this day, evil spirits roamed the earth. To warn off unwanted spirits they would carve scary faces out of turnips and place them on their doorsteps. Adding a lit candle to the hollowed out face gave added protection.
As the Irish emigrated to America they brought this tradition with them and discovered the Pumpkin (which is native to America). They quickly realised, they more closely resembled a head and were much easier to carve! The tradition of pumpkin carving at Halloween has continued ever since.
The precursor of the other classic tradition of ‘trick or treating’ is believed to be ‘souling’. Where children travelled from house to house on All hallows eve, singing for soul cakes (a small spiced bun with currants).

Inspired by the spice from the soul cakes and pumpkin carving we made a spiced pumpkin syrup. To which we added 40ml of a heavily spiced gin. Inspired by the apple and the ale from story of ‘Stingy Jack’ we then lengthened the drink with Pulpt’s Union cider and added an ale top, Kaleidoscope by Wiper & True.

#2 Hungry Ghost Festival

This is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held in many Asian countries.
The fifteenth day of the seventh month in the calendar is called ‘Ghost Day’ and the seventh month in general, is regarded as the ‘Ghost Month’ (02/09/19).
During Ghost month they believe restless spirits roam among us and the Hungry Ghost Festival traditions are all about appeasing these lost souls.
The living make offerings of food, drink and entertainment to the hungry ghosts seeking earthly comfort, while following superstitions intended to keep mischievous spirits from bringing bad luck to your doors.

Classic offerings:
Burning incense and Joss paper. Joss paper is known as ‘ghost money’, burnt for payment of spiritual debts and to encourage prosperity.
Leaving out food platters of fresh fruit, roasted meats, rice and noodles.
Pouring an extra glass of tea and rice wine

Examples of some common superstitions:
Never kill insects as it may be your ancestors paying a visit.
Don’t leave your door open all night as negative energy may enter your home.
Don’t go swimming during ghost month. Drowned ghost may pull you under water.
Never sit front row during a show, these VIP seats are reserved for passing spirits.

Inspired by the offerings during the festival we made a twist on a classic gin cocktail called a ‘Gibson’. A Gibson is a Martini served with a pickled onion. We served our Canton gin which uses Chinese tea as it’s lead botanicals, with a plum Umeshu. Our Garnish was a slice of Nashi pear, pickled in ginger and beetroot.

#3 Day of the Dead

The general misconception is 'Día de los Muertos', or Day of the Dead, is a Mexican version of Halloween. Though related, they differ in traditions and tone. Whereas Halloween is seen as a dark night of terror and mischief, Day of the Dead festivities unfold over two days in an explosion of color and life-affirming joy. The theme is death, but the point is to demonstrate love and respect for deceased family members. In towns and cities throughout Mexico, revelers don colourful makeup and costumes, hold parades, parties, sing and dance, and make offerings to lost loved ones.
Day of the Dead originated several thousand years ago with the Aztec, Toltec, and other groups, who considered mourning the dead disrespectful. For these pre-Hispanic cultures, death was a natural phase in life’s long continuum. The dead were still members of the community, kept alive in memory and spirit—and during Día de los Muertos, they temporarily returned to Earth. Today’s Día de los Muertos celebration is a mash-up of pre-Hispanic religious rites and Christian feasts.

Key elements of the festival:

Altars are built to show the souls the way home. Its a way of welcoming the spirits and showing them they have not been forgotten. The altar can vary depending on the region but tend to feature photographs, flowers, sugar skulls (Calavera), chocolate, candles, bread, salt and water.

Picture – To make them present and revive their image.
Flowers – For the welcoming scent. (Marigold because of their vibarnt colour)
Candles – To light the way
Water – To calm their thirst
Salt – Set as a purifier

Food of the dead.
Its a traditional belief that you work up quite a hunger and thirst traveling from the spirit world back to the realm of the living. So food, alcohol, treats such as hot chocolate are offen left on the alters. Sometimes families will place their dead loved one’s favorite meal.

The Skull is used as a symbol, as it represents us all. Its an equaliser, death comes to all. Man, woman, adult, child.
They are painted in colourful patterns in celebration of the person who has passed and often with a smile to laugh at death itself.
The skull can take many forms. Sugar Skulls, Clay decorations and make -up.

On this cold Autumn night we decided to finish on a Mexican hot chocolate. We made a traditional horchata and added cactus water, dark chocolate and spice. We made this drink boozy with a gin we created especially for the event. Featuring flavours inspired by the altars; cinnamon, ginger, marigold and hibiscus.
For added chaos to finish the night, we set a ‘day of the dead’ face painting challenge!


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