Monday, 10 March 2014

Cheltenham Festival: Race Day Drinks & A Julep Revival

This week sees the Irish descend upon Cheltenham. The spa town that boasts its Regency buildings and cultural events suddenly becomes swarmed with race-goers from far and wide - namely Ireland - for the four day event that is seen as the highlight of the racing calendar. Cheltenham Festival 2014 has arrived; spot the red trouser-ed snobs flaunting the cash, the 9am drinkers outside O’Neills, the fake-tweed-that-looks-shit wearers (smugly thinking they’ve nailed it), the ladies dolled up to the nines, tottering in heels and donning fascinators so large that they look like they could take off.. I should totally make this into bingo.

Anyway, having attended the past few years in a row - enjoying the odd flutter where I tend to pick the donkey - I generally end up being the drinks-dogs-body whilst the other half rifles through The Racing Post and fills out his betting slips. For such a prestigious event, where millions of pounds are both bet and spent, the drinks are, quite frankly, crap. It’s fine if you want to drink Guinness, there’s a bar selling it on tap at every corner, and even a whole village dedicated to the black stuff, but as for everything else, it’s just a bit average.

Ask for a glass of wine and you’re handed a mini bottle of Blossom Hill, the lagers are not only standard but ridiculously overpriced, and there’s the usual same old culprits in the spirits section; Smirnoff, Bacardi, Gordon’s, etc. Sure, there’s champagne, but even that isn’t anything fancy. What’s worse is that everything is served in plastic cups - suave-ness does not come in a plastic cup. Your best bet is smuggling in a hip flask, then at least you get a drink that you enjoy, and in a vessel that isn’t bendy.

In order to have better race day drinks, perhaps we should take inspiration from overseas. At the Kentucky Derby one drink reigns supreme; the Mint Julep. Each year, around 120,000 are dished out to thirsty punters over the two day event. The key to its popularity must be something to do with its refreshing simplicity; mint leaves, bourbon, sugar and water, served with a heap of ice in a pewter cup; much nicer than the 230,000 hefty pints of Guinness sold at Cheltenham. Surely one drink done well is better than a range of rubbish offerings?

Looking outside of the racetrack, a little London boozer, The Whip, has decided to pay homage to the Derby and honed in on this particular cocktail.

 James Chase, part of the Chase Vodka & Gin family, and Dom Jacobs, ex-director of Harvey Nichols and Sketch, have teamed up to champion the long forgotten serve in their jockey themed establishment, giving the Julep an elegant British twist.

For instance, their house special sacks off the bourbon and, instead, muddles Chase Rhubarb Vodka and Williams Chase Gin, with lemon, mint, basil and a splash of soda. It comes in a traditional tin with a strainer on top, so no spillages on your fancy race day clothes, and it’ll even keep your moustache from getting wet. Winner.

Why is it then, that we’ve settled for these sub-standard drinks? Can we not jump on the Julep Revival bandwagon? A stylish silver cup would look much more in keeping with the event than a flimsy plastic pint glass, and a minty aroma wafting through the tatterstalls would be a massive improvement on the beer and cheese & onion crisps that permeate the grounds currently. Let’s face it; the odds are that nothing’s going to change.. I’ll happily put all my money on that.

Top image taken from charlesdyer's photostream under the CCL.

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