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Behind the bar here at the Bella Luce is a shelf dedicated to small bottles bearing a pair of puffins and the St Peter Port harbour tower on their distinctive labels; the produce of local artisan liqueur makers Stephen and Katherine Paine of Haut Maison.
Haut Maison takes its name from La Maison de Haut, Stephen and Katherine’s home in St Sampson which they have developed into an enormously productive small holding since retiring in 2006. A large traditional Guernsey farmhouse dating back to the 13th century and surrounded by 11 acres of fields and orchards, they have worked tirelessly to restore the orchards and large walled kitchen garden, establish soft-fruit vineries and transform the pigsty and barn into a workshop and hygienic production room to allow them to turn their passion into a successful business. Since 2012 they have been providing local bars, restaurants and specialty food stores with a range of fruit liqueurs and flavoured vodkas, allowing us to produce cocktails that celebrate local produce and Guernsey’s long history of market gardening.
We visited Stephen and Katherine earlier this spring for a tour of La Maison du Haut’s orchards and kitchen garden, and to find out more about how they produce their wonderful range.
Haut Maison’s range includes raspberry liqueur, loganberry liqueur, damson gin, blackberry vodka, horseradish vodka, crème de casis and espresso vodka. Inside their sunny half-acre kitchen garden Katherine cultivates horseradish, blackcurrants, several damson trees and vegetables for their own consumption, as well as keeping bees. In late spring and early summer the bees swarm, with the queen sometimes leaving the hive if the colony has outgrown it which means that beekeepers face the annual risk of losing part of their colony. Thankfully for Katherine the queen normally only travels twenty feet or so, and it just so happens that they love to settle on young damson trees, so she is able to collect and rehouse the queen without the risk of her venturing further afield. As well as those crops grown for the range of Haut Maison liqueurs and flavoured vodkas, the Paine’s also cultivate apples, pears, cherries, quince and mulberries in their orchard on the north side of Brock Road, which they use to produce syrups, preserves and jellies. Their bees produce honey and Katherine keeps some of the happiest hens on the island, so they have a busy time of it raising so much produce for both themselves and their business.
“We must have about twenty five different varieties of apple tree, half of which are eating apples and the remaining twelve or thirteen trees producing cider apples. The pears and figs are sold to restaurants, whilst I make preserves with the medlars.”
On the south side of Brock Road the boysenberries, loganberries and raspberries are grown, and there are around 50 damson trees. Katherine and Stephen start harvesting loganberries and then raspberries in June and start picking early apples in July, with many of their crops overlapping.
“We have roughly 120 trees and half an acre of bush fruit planted, so we pick every other day right through until October and then take a holiday!”
The fruit for liqueurs is macerated and then steeped for between six and nine months, with a carefully timed addition of sugar. Damsons are frozen to help break down their thick skins before being steeped and stirred once a month.
“It was an incredibly fun devising the processes and recipes for the liqueurs”
Haut Maison’s espresso vodka, produced using beans roasted by local coffee producer Bean14, takes around two weeks to produce from start to finish so is the only product in their range with a production cycle from harvest to bottling of less than six months. Their horseradish vodka took Stephen and Katherine three years to develop, as they experimented with taming “the kick” of the horseradish to produce a vodka that can be sipped as well as being the perfect addition to a bloody mary, and we think that they’ve got it just right - we use Haut Maison’s horseradish vodka in our Bella Luce Bloody Mary and you can find the recipe here.
Next time you’re perusing the cocktail menu here at the Bella Luce, please be sure to ask us which of our special cocktails feature Haut Maison liqueurs and let us mix up a drink for you that celebrates some of Guernsey’s fantastic local produce.