For the last three weeks I have been in Sri Lanka, supporting the England Cricket team in the Tests at Galle and Kandy and experiencing the delights of the beaches, jungles, tea plantations, temples, traffic and tuk-tuks.
The first thing to say about enjoying a G&T in Sri Lanka is that I didn’t care for the standard tonic water, made by ‘Elephant House’ the major soft drinks manufacturer in the country. It arrives in a large bottle, enough for a few gins and is too sweet for me as well as having a citrus flavour rather like a weak cordial.
The first hotel I stayed at during my travels served its very own brand of gin. It sounded unusual and exotic, promising notes of lemongrass and curry leaves. Unusual, yes, and probably a very acquired taste.
However, onto a much more enjoyable gin tasting experience. After the first Test four of us travelled together to stay among the tea plantations for a couple of nights. We arrived at our bungalow which consisted of just four bedrooms to a warm welcome from the staff and hot cups of Ceylon tea. Probably sensing that we might have preferred something stronger, the manager of the bungalow, Lalith asked if we would like to see the local cricket and social club built by the tea planters in the colonial days of the 1880s. He was a member and could ‘get us in’ and we could all have a drink together. The following evening, before dinner, he took us along. In the fading light we felt as though we had stepped back in time with the wooden panelled rooms and beautiful bar room complete with old photographs of previous teams and stag heads on the walls. The four of us sat at the magnificent bar while Lalith ordered us all what we intended to be a small gin before returning to the bungalow for dinner.
The gin was a Sri Lankan product, Rockland Dry Gin. The Rockland Distillery is the oldest in Sri Lanka having been established in 1924. The label promises the delights of a recipe known only to the family members involved in the production and the company is now owned by the grandson of Carl de SilvaWijeyeratne, the original founder. It is crisp, clear, old fashioned and with just a splash of the dreaded tonic water and plenty of ice it made the perfect cooling aperitif. Our new best friend suggested we have another as there was still time before dinner and we felt obliged to comply. Then he broke open the Bombay mix and insisted on ‘one for the road’. We tried to protest, saying that his chef would be waiting to serve dinner and our driver was outside but Lalith waved our concerns aside and instructed the bartender to top up our glasses. The gin was very easy going and light and there in the heat of the dying evening we felt like old colonial planters enjoying a post match refreshment.
Eventually we returned to the bungalow for our dinner apologising to the other diners for keeping them waiting. We did not see our friend Lalith again that evening. We are not sure why.