Olly Smith’s shares his favourite Sussex drinks and details on his book ‘Fizz’
PUBLISHED: 11:09 30 May 2019
© Catherine Benson www.catherinebenson.co.uk
In his new book Lewes-based drinks writer Olly Smith is exploring celebratory cocktails for all tastes
Whenever something good happens - whether it's a wedding, promotion or new baby - the default action always seems to be to break out the fizz.
Lewes-based drinks writer Olly Smith is taking that celebratory drink as his starting point for his new collection of cocktails. "I'm embracing the sense of fun, enjoyment and celebration that a glass of bubbly always brings," he says. "Every glass of fizz offers something different - whether it's more savoury cava, fruity prosecco or sharper English sparkling wine."
But Fizz doesn't just explore the alcoholic beverage. Olly has also scoured his contacts and his memory banks for exciting non-alcoholic mocktails. "I'm thinking about fizz in different ways," he says. "For a long time there has been an urge to look at the level of alcohol in certain drinks and whether we can make more interesting flavours which don't rely on alcohol to be part of it. It's an exciting part of the evolution of the drinks culture - that you can have brilliant taste without the booze."
Fizz is both aimed at the connoisseur and the amateur - with recipes for reductions and syrups at the start of the book for those planning something special, to simpler methods which just rely on drinks to be poured in the right quantities at the right time.
"It's about being able to do it at home," says Olly. "The ingredients being accessible is the name of the game - I could have recipes with specialist ingredients, but I wanted to get ingredients from the back of the store cupboard. There's a cocktail Pastis Goes Pop which tastes great - people might have terrible memories of drinking pastis as teenagers. Advocaat isn't just for Christmas - most of us have bottles of these things lying around the house. Make something which looks and tastes decent and puts a smile on people's faces - why not enjoy everything you have got?"
There are plenty of options for parties and home barbecues, with advice on making larger batches of certain tipples, and how to make some of the mocktails slightly more adult.
Olly took inspiration in part from his time on Saturday Kitchen. He has been on the popular cooking magazine as one of its resident drinks experts since its second or third week. "On a show like Saturday Kitchen all the recipes are straightforward to put together," he says. "It's something I wanted to replicate in Fizz." Prior to the live show he always makes each dish at home to ensure his drink match works. "Quite often I'm surprised by the pairings that work. We keep to a budget of under £10, but we can have anything - cocktails or beers. I had an aquavit on the show [in March] to match an open sandwich from Denmark." The secret is to find the headline flavour to each dish. "Steamed chicken can have a very different flavour to chicken in a spicy sauce," says Olly. "The flavour might come from the dressing, a side dish or a spice which changes the dish."
Having previously been one of the roving reporters, turning up in supermarket aisles across the country to do pre-recorded sections, he is now part of the in-studio team with host Matt Tebbutt. "He's a great friend and terrific chef," says Olly. "I love the atmosphere in the studio - it's a very sharing place. It feels like a conversation between all the guests and chefs. I've learned so much!"
In 2015 Olly was named as one of Debrett's top 500 influencers in the UK. Saturday Kitchen must play a part - there are always gaps on supermarket shelves when a particular brand is recommended - but he also has a column in The Mail on Sunday, runs The Glass House wine bars on P&O Ferries and is a regular voice on BBC Radio 2. It's all part of his overall plan to make wine accessible to everyone.
"The wall of wine in a supermarket can be intimidating," he says. "I've tried to use different ways of communicating to make it simpler for people - whether it's my wine app, the books or being available on social media. Great Britain has one of the most incredible ranges of wines on the high street. In France you have mainly French wines, in South Africa, mainly South African, but we have the whole world on our shelves. People are getting more specific about what they love - it might be a grape variety or a vintage. In the UK 2018 is going to be one of the best vintages."
Olly moved from London to Lewes when his wife Sophie got a new job with Brighton Festival. "The whole place has a unique charm and setting," he says. "I love the Downs, adore the hidden pieces of wetland, the seaside and rivers, all the things that make Sussex so special. The real draw was the sense of people creating lives for themselves here - doing things that really fire them up and interest them."
As examples he points to the magnificent food at Caccia and Tails in Station Street and Pestle and Mortar in Lansdown Place, Lewes, The Jolly Sportsman in East Chiltington where he recently enjoyed lunch and a butchers in Holmansbridge which serves stunning steak and the best sausage rolls in Britain.
A passion he discovered when he moved to Lewes was for the garden. He now keeps bees in his home just outside the town, and has worked towards creating an all-year round green space. "Gardening in Sussex has become the great pleasure in my life," he says. "Being close to nature is very important - whether it's going for a big walk with my dog Busby or chitting potatoes and planting tomatoes. We lived on Priory Street in Lewes where I got my first garden and started to think about plants. Now I've inherited an ancient garden which I'm teasing back to life - it was very overgrown and wild."
One constant in each garden is his mint plant. "My grandmother gave me a mint plant when I went to university," he says. "I have that same plant which she got from the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. It's a lovely thing to share. I can remember the story of every plant in my garden."
Fizz by Olly Smith is published by Ebury Press. For Olly's latest news and his regular podcast A Glass With… visit www.ollysmith.com
Olly's favourite Sussex tipples
"Harveys Best Bitter is always my favourite - I love going to the John Harvey Brewers or The Swan in Lewes and having a well-kept pint of Best. The quality of the beers brewed by Burning Sky, in Firle, is superb. They are more influenced by Belgian and craft beers.
"For the best Sussex wine I would immediately go to Breaky Bottom, just outside Lewes. I filmed my first wine broadcast there and his wines have got better and better. They are precision, beautifully fragrant but very pure. Peter puts some magical, beautiful work into it.
"Brighton Gin has had a huge amount of success. And I'm a devotee of Middle Farm's National Collection of Cider and Perries - their collection is really well-curated, with a great range from East to West Sussex. It's hard to think of anywhere with such a range of artisan product under one roof.
"Middle Farm is also where I go to press my apples to make my own juice and attempt to make cider. I tend to leave it to the professionals."
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