At Treguddick we have a big black board with the words above it - what shall we do next? Oddly enough there's no profanities on the board, but one word is scrawled and chalked over and over again: its Lovage. So, true to our word we followed your suggestion and the rest, as they say, is history!
If you are not familiar with Lovage and moreover, Lovage alcoholic cordial, I'll start uncharacteristically at the beginning!
Lovage belongs to a family of plants that includes parsley, carrots and celery. It's tall with large green leaves - a bit like flat leaf parsley (but with fewer pointy bits) and a flavour similar to celery but with a gorgeous hit of light tobacco'ed anise.
Like pretty much every herb you can mention, down through the centuries a monk here or a quack there has used it in some elixir or other. But when it comes to boozy concoctions it has a particularly rich lineage, with its crowning glory the traditional British cordial known as "lovage cordial."
Going back to at least the 18th century, this delight was made by infusing brandy with lovage leaves, creating a sumptuous and unique combo often enjoyed as a “digestive aid”.
This general plan of sticking some herbs in an alcoholic beverage was a strategy broadly deployed throughout Europe - my fave is homemade vermouth: grab yourself a bottle of cheap cheap cheap white wine or rose, pop 8cm of fresh rosemary stem, 2 bay leaves and a bit of lemon thyme in the bottle and reseal, leaving in the fridge overnight - and you will have the best vermouth you've ever tasted! But I digress.
Back to lovage. As time went by it made commercial sense to make the cordial and have the consumer buy the brandy separately and mix it themselves.
The cordial was probably first sold commercially by J. R. Phillips of Bristol, part of their range of shrubs dating back to 1793 (we make some sense-tingling shrubs too <link>). Founded by William George in 1739, then James Phillips became a partner in 1808. From then a long tradition of the production of this unique product has its roots.
It was traditionally mixed with brandy as a winter drink and was especially popular in Cornwall. Like shrub, it was added to (slightly spoiled) spirit: smuggled brandy needed to hide the salty taste acquired as it was hauled below water during illicit transit. Then the typical cocktail was two parts lovage cordial to one part brandy. The practical benefits in places like Cornwall, where smuggling was common, and the quality of brandy thus variable, was that it masked many off-flavours, rendering nadgered stuff drinkable - and therein a legend was created.
Sadly Phillips closed its doors six or more years ago, but demand remained. Driven by our what's next chalk board and no bottle of lovage cordial at hand, we went back (closing the loop) to the drawing board.
Fresh lovage and a pile of lovage seeds. A chop, a sniff and a chew. The spectrum and complexity of the maelstrom of flavours and aromas meant a low strength alcoholic cordial would not capture the full bandwidth of delight that swirled about us. So we re-invented lovage cordial for the 21st Century.
An iconoclastic sip and the undynal bed-mate for your favourite brandy. The uniqueness of how lovage marries sweet celery notes with earthy parsley and rich but light anise is something to marvel. You must give it ago!
Don’t confine our lovage cordial to sips alone; it's transformative in cooking. A quick win is a pear sauce for either roast pork or duck. Peel, decore and slice a couple of pairs, add 100mls of lovage liqueur in a saucepan with a knob of butter, pop a lid on and cook until pomace. Add 100ml of chicken stock and reduce by half. Then a tsp of any mustard you care, 50ml double cream and a tbsp of fresh chopped sage. Reduce to the thickness you prefer and serve. Enough of this I have to reach for a pan and a glass!