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World Cocktail Day at the Ashmolean Museum

As News editors, when we received an invite to the Ashmolean Museum’s celebration of World Cocktail Day – 13 May, for those who didn’t celebrate – we jumped at the opportunity to take a break from running between protests and sending off comment requests. Instead of attending our usual 4 pm tutorials, we found ourselves at the Ashmolean’s rooftop bar, where we were served a range of Ashmolean-inspired cocktails. 

We arrived at the event and were greeted by a table decorated with flowers and charcuterie boards. Other members of the press, Ashmolean staff, and representatives of Gibson’s Organic Liqueurs and Oxford Artisan Distillery joined us as we discovered new cocktail recipes and learnt more about the Ashmolean Museum. 

We spoke with a member of the Ashmolean’s brand licensing team, whose workdays are dedicated to ensuring that the museum’s ‘brand identity’ is aligned with their wider narrative. Her creative domain includes art print tees developed with Topman, but extends to creative details with an ecopaint brand developing paint colours inspired by the Ashmolean’s collections. The newly painted rooftop restaurant features ‘Enamel Blue’, for example, lifted from accents on delicate pins and brooches in the enamel jewellery collection, and ‘Breaking Wave’, a colour from the details of waves depicted in their Japanese woodblock prints. 

As part of these efforts, the museum recently launched a partnership collaboration with Gibson’s Organic Liqueurs, whose owner, Miles Gibson, attended this event. Gibson’s farm, based outside Burford in Oxfordshire, grows all of the fruit and flowers used in Gibson liqueurs – a feature of the company that is, according to Gibson, “unlike almost every other liqueur producer in the country.” 

We tried the Ashmolean Crab Apple Organic Liqueur, developed by Gibson, first straight-up and then in a crab apple martini. The liqueur is composed almost entirely of crab apples and sugar. The alcoholic base, a gluten-free organic grain spirit, was hardly detectable and allowed the pure bitter apple flavour to dominate the drink. Star anise – subtly sweet and tinged with licorice – added an needed edge. The liqueur bottle is enamelled with Still Life of Apple Blossom, a relic from the Dutch Golden Age, painted in the 1680s by John Verelst. The painting, we are told, was Verelst’s only one not to include a vase – a nod to the organic wildness of the crab apple used in Gibson’s liqueur. 

We also tasted the Oxford Artisan Distillery’s Ashmolean Dry Gin, the bottle of which featured ‘Spray of Morning Glory’, by Takeuchi Seiho, part of the museum’s Eastern Art collection. The blue and green flowers depicted in the print are a nod to the orris and exotic kaffir lime leaves, two of 17 botanicals that together created the final full, juniper-led taste. It was a flavourful base for a summery G&T, which we received garnished with a slice of jara lemon and a sprig of lavender. 

If the Monday afternoon invite-only rooftop gin tasting didn’t quite align with the museum’s stated goal of making their collections “more accessible… and relevant to people’s lives”, then at least the event was such a delight that no one attending seemed to mind. The atmosphere was light, the drinks were both tasty and brand-aligned, and, as the organisers reminded us, it’s royalty income generated from products like cocktails that allows the Ashmolean to keep entry to its world-class galleries free. 

In addition to free entry for all, the Ashmolean provides Oxford students and alumni with free entry to paid exhibitions and a 10% discount on all museum merchandise. 

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