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Preparing the Christmas Cocktail Selection at Knockinaam

About to celebrate his second Christmas at Knockinaam Lodge, Restaurant & Bar Manager, Sean Thorley is looking forward to the festive cocktail season.

Diners and guests taking a winter break or locals popping in for lunch or afternoon tea can sample one of Sean’s creations or a classic cocktail in the atmospheric bar or lounge at this former Victorian hunting lodge hotel, which has stunning sea views and great nearby walks to build up an appetite or quench your thirst.

Sean arrived at Knockinaam just before last Christmas and having spent a whole season at the hotel, he has enjoyed honing his skills while learning about the preferences of the hotel’s guests. Sean explains: “We often welcome returning guests at Knockinaam and you soon get to know what’s their favourite tipple. Gin based cocktails have become a hugely popular choice and we are very lucky to have excellent local gins from Hills & Harbour.”

Recipe for a great Cocktail

Using local ingredients is a key principle of the kitchen and the same goes for the bar with local drinks producers championed by the hotel and the cocktail selection designed to complement the seasons, just as the restaurant makes the most of the best seasonal produce. 

When preparing the Christmas cocktail selection, Sean is keen to make them celebratory and fun for the festive season: from a classic Champagne cocktail to a warming hot toddy with sloe gin to a novelty  

Rockin’ Rudolf. He’s also introducing seasonal flavours through cocktail ingredients such as Disaronno amaretto tasting liqueur with its distinct marzipan flavour – what could be more Christmasy?

Well versed on the vast whisky collection at Knockinaam (some featuring in the cocktail selection too) and excited to be developing new cocktail concoctions, Sean confesses that he still has a lot to learn about the wine selection at Knockinaam: “The hotel is renowned for its superlative wine collection, with many of the wines that would be only available by the bottle in most restaurants, due to the Corvine system we use here at Knockinaam we can offer these quality wines by the glass, so you can try something special without pushing the boat out on a whole bottle. Knockinaam’s owner, David Ibbotson is a wine connoisseur and has a great deal of know-how on wine/food pairing. I am learning all the time from his knowledge.” 

From Galloway to Glasgow and back again         

Originally a local lad lured away by the bright lights of Glasgow, Sean has worked in several popular restaurants and night spots where he developed his cocktail making talents and restaurant management skills. Asked what his priority is, the answer is simple: “Ensuring that guests at Knockinaam Lodge experience a warm and friendly service is the main objective for me and for the team. I spent years working in large busy bars in Glasgow and you don’t have the same opportunity to get to know your guests. That’s the main difference about working at Knockinaam. It’s about the intimacy of the hotel, with its 10 bedrooms and secluded location. You can’t help but slow the pace and make the quality of time matter and that includes time spent with the guests making sure that they feel comfortable and are enjoying their stay to the utmost.”

Slowing the pace of life was a major motivator for Sean, who wanted to return to his roots after he and his partner knew that they were expecting their first child. “Being close to family was important to us so when the role at Knockinaam became available it was a chance not to be missed. We have settled back into country life and now that our daughter has arrived, having a better pace of life is very important to us and we feel very lucky to be back here.” 

Since Sean has been in post at Knockinaam he has thoroughly enjoyed learning about the hotel’s particular dining ethos and getting to know many of the guests, who come from far and wide: “I love listening to our guests and leaning about where they are from and what they enjoy about a stay at our hotel. I also love to share my passion for this stunning part of Scotland and why it brought me back, to appreciate a pace of life that makes the south west of Scotland a very special place to enjoy being among green fields, peace and quiet and beaches that are nearby.” 

Invitation to locals in Stranraer and surrounds - a great dining experience near you 

Sean admitted that although he has grown up locally, he had never been to Knockinaam Lodge and is keen to encourage more local people to discover all that the hotel has to offer. “I think Knockinaam has always been regarded as a place only for guests to the area, but I am keen to spread the word that the hotel welcomes ‘walk-ins’ as we describe no-residents in the hospitality industry. Appealing to local guests to come and enjoy the fabulous Knockinaam afternoon teas, Sunday lunches or for dinner is a personal mission for me.”

Finally, what makes a great cocktail? Sean suggests that you keep it simple and let the key component of your cocktail concoction shine, but with an added twist. Being mostly self-taught Sean recommends that you be bold and experiment: “Trial and error has been my way to create some great tasting cocktails. Choose your favourite tipple, add a cordial and a mixer and you’re on your way. A cocktail shaker is not even always necessary but it’s always good for show.” And what will Sean be drinking this festive season? “I do sample the cocktails as I experiment but to be honest if I am relaxing with a drink, I can’t go beyond a refreshing gin and tonic.”

Sean is looking forward to welcoming guests, locals and from further afield this winter to enjoy a celebratory festive cocktail while enjoying the views and relaxed peaceful ambiance of Knockinaam Lodge.  Check out our Dine and Cellar pages or book stay here