As part of our new Behind the Cocktail Shaker series, Slingsby mixologist Louise Hammond talks about her first ever cocktail, learning her craft in the backstreets of Leicester, and her weird experiment with edible cocktail bath bombs.

“The first cocktail I ever made was a combination of everything that was in my dad’s drinks cabinet that he wouldn’t notice had gone. I think it was a mixture of Kahlua, Cointreau and Sherry - I can’t quite remember, but either way it was delicious!”

Slingsby’s resident mixologist, Louise Hammond, clearly knew from an early age she had a flair for cocktail making. The passion bloomed when she was studying a Fine Art degree at De Montfort University in Leicester, where she loved exploring the backstreets and laneways to seek out new and exciting bars.

Her hobby soon developed into a potential career one summer between university semesters, as she completed her four-week European Bar School diploma.

“At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself in for”, she laughed. “I think the course was more difficult than all of my years in traditional education put together! Memorising the hundreds of different cocktail recipes and learning to juggle bottles was tricky. However, it was one of the best experiences of my life - if you ignore the fact I stayed in a hostel for six weeks in triple bunk beds with 12 other students in a room you couldn’t swing a cat in!”

Once Louise finished her degree, she secured a job working at one of the best bars in Leicester, 45 West, which is the home of Burleighs Gin. “I was the most inexperienced bartender working there, but I was working elbow to elbow with some of the best in the industry who taught me so much”, she said.

Fast forward a few years and Louise is now one of The Spirit of Harrogate’s resident mixologists, specialising in creating perfect serve gin and tonics for customers. But what’s her favourite Slingsby concoction of all time?

“I created a Fig Sbagliato for an event with Slingsby a couple years ago and now I drink it every year at Christmas. The recipe is fig liqueur, sweet vermouth, Navy Strength Slingbsy Gin, topped with fizz and garnished with black cherries. Absolutely delicious.”

When it comes to creating Slingsby cocktails and ‘perfect serve’ gin and tonics, Louise’s inspiration can come from anywhere: “It could be a season or an event theme that gives me the idea. For example, last year we did an event for a gallery in London where they briefed us to create clean pastel coloured classy drink. We created a bespoke cocktail using Slingsby London Dry Gin served with rose lemonade, a squeeze of fresh lemon, garnished with pink rose petals and a ribbon of cucumber. We also created a gorgeous Royal Blush cocktail for the Royal Wedding this year, which contained our Slingsby Rhubarb Gin, prosecco and elderflower cordial.”

The 1920s and 30s prohibition era in America was where the cocktail trend first really took off, before it made its way over the pond. But what is Louise’s favourite traditional cocktail from this time?

“I have a soft spot for the Long Island Ice Tea, which was originally a prohibition drink”, she explained. “It’s made up of all the clear spirits that would be left over from the bar, they would shake them all together and top with cola. A traditional one would contain sugar syrup floating on top of the drink – and the intention of this was that if someone smelt the drink, they couldn’t smell the alcohol.”

Another key part of Louise’s role is to think about what flavour trends could be integrated into Slingsby’s gins, cocktails and ‘perfect serves’.

She said: “We’ve just done some work with Kombucha, which is a gut-friendly fermented tea drink which initially trended in Australia”, she explained. “Molecuar mixology is also really cool at the moment and there are a lot of drinks being created using dry ice and foams. I think an increasing number of bartenders are now using their own unique homemade ingredients in their cocktails. Bartenders are the new chefs!”

Whilst Louise loves experimenting, things don’t always go to plan: “I once tried to make edible cocktail bath bombs, they tasted absolutely horrific. Back to the drawing board for that one!”

Louise is one of the mixologists at Spirit of Harrogate who can guide you through creating your very own signature gin in the new Master Distiller Experience.