Harbour master’s Earl Grey wine down to a tea
Saturday 6th October 2012, 10:00AM BST.
THERE are times – sadly frequent enough this summer – when passengers disembarking at Maseline Harbour need a helping hand, if only to guide them to the handrail on the steps.
That hand is often provided by harbour master Jim Hodge who, in common with many Sark residents, also fulfils another useful function when he’s away from the day job.
Jim has turned his hobby, in his case making some exceptional alcoholic drinks, into a reasonably profitable ‘and thoroughly enjoyable’ sideline with a retail outlet adjacent to the gift shop at Stocks Hotel.
Before he transferred operations to Stocks’ tap room – much to the delight of his wife Sam, who reclaimed the work surfaces in her kitchen – making wine was really a hobby; something he’d seen his sister doing when he was a teenager in his native Scotland.
The move to Stocks came about during a chance conversation with one of the hotel’s directors, Alex Magell, who sampled Jim’s wine over a meal and suggested that once the hotel’s renovations were complete there might be room to retail it.
The result is that the shelves are full and there’s more in the taproom awaiting bottling.
The hobby started seven years ago with the aid of some old books sent by his sister and the first he made was from Earl Grey tea bags. This sounded strange to me, as I was expecting elderberry or something similar.
I pointed to something labelled ‘raspberry’ on a shelf and asked if he’d grown the fruit. No, was the reply, pointing to the label, that’s from raspberry tea.
‘Where I use fruit and vegetables I try to use as much locally-grown produce as I can,’ he said, pointing to celery, beetroot and rhubarb marked on other labels. ‘But you can make it pretty much out of anything.’
What about sloes, I asked, thinking about the bush in my own garden, which annually produces enough fruit for six or seven litres of sloe gin but this year has been totally bereft of fruit?
‘I’ve made sloe wine but it’s not to everyone’s taste. I like it, but it’s an acquired taste,’ he said with a smile.
Jim explained that the tea wines are quickest to make – four months or so is about the norm – while others such as celery and blackberry can take between nine months and a year. He is also making liqueurs and I have to say I was fascinated with one.
In addition to using strawberries and pineapples he also produces a coffee bean and orange liqueur, using a fruit stuffed with beans and some vodka providing the ‘oomph’ – principally because that spirit does not overpower the flavour of the other ingredients.
And how soon before he quits the day job down at Maseline Harbour?
‘We’re doing quite well,’ was all this particular canny Scot would say.
The way things are here at present in relation to jobs, it’s nice to report on someone who is finding a market for what started as a hobby.
I referred some weeks ago to shop noticeboards being a traditional and effective form of communication and have noticed a marked increase in the number of Sarkees and long-term island residents advertising for work, with ‘anything considered’ being a frequently used phrase.
My journalistic colleague Bob Parsons, who produces the excellent Sark Scribe monthly magazine, has clearly noticed the same thing, because in his October edition he is offering free advertising space to anyone seeking work.
I hope that Sark doesn’t return to the bad old days and those who need work done and can afford to pay fair and proper rates don’t take unfair advantage of those seeking employment.
It does no one any favours at all.
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