The chef making liqueurs in the Blackmore Vale

Mat Follas won BBC MasterChef in 2009, and opened his first restaurant, The Wild Garlic in Beaminster to notable acclaim. Mat now teaches forgaing courses, has a new fine dining restaurant, Bramble, in Sherborne, whoch doubles as a base for his newest adventure Mûre Liqueurs. Rachael Rowe went to meet him.

On a bitterly cold day, the smell of cooking infusing through Bramble Restaurant is welcoming warmth. Chef Mat Follas is preparing food for the evening but I’m here to see another side of his business.
Whenever I think of liqueurs, my mind goes to those half-inspired buys from a package holiday trip, or an over-sweetened mass-produced bottle of something. The Mûre range of liqueurs developed by Mat Follas are produced right here in North Dorset and are definitely something to bring out at any time of the year- not just for Christmas.

I asked Mat what inspired him to start making liqueurs?
His main business is with his foraging days, so blackberry was his first liqueur. It’s also where the company name Mûre comes from (mûre is French for blackberry, and blackberry liqueur is commonly known as crème de mûre).

“I wanted something with blackberry to make sauces with, but all the available shop liqueurs were horribly over-processed. I had a couple of jars infusing from foraging days, so I developed a liqueur. Just for myself initially.”

The company formed two years ago using a crowdfunder with a range of three liqueurs.
“It sold out in five days,” smiles Mat. Clearly people knew he was on to something. However, Covid-19 got in the way of plans for new premises in April 2020. Mat focused on his liqueurs, but getting licensing was a challenge as hand sanitizers were prioritised. He’s now into the second phase of the project, and aiming to launch in shops in the New Year. Sales so far have been excellent.

Taking their time

Unlike gin, liqueurs take time to develop their flavour and are a combination of cooking, infusing, tasting, and sampling. It took at least six months to perfect his blackberry liqueur with cycles of macerating, brewing and cooking. “There’s something to be said for time in the bottle,” Mat reflects.

But how do you know when the flavour is just right?
Mat does a lot of blind tasting. His roast coffee and rum liqueur was blind-tasted against other similar products until he got the flavour he wanted. The blackberry liqueur was tested against cassis and other similar products. He found many of the popular commercial products over sugared and just awful. He simply kept tweaking his products until they were good. And his Properly Bitter Lemon? It was just good (it is). As Mat says: “I’m an OK cook, so I’m coming at it as a chef rather than a booze maker.”

Is there a favourite?

During winter the Marmalade Whisky liqueur is popular, whereas people go for blackberry in summer. Next year he is looking at developing more flavours in the company and has been successful selling in his restaurant and market stalls.

If you are looking to include some liqueurs in your festive shopping, mine’s a marmalade whisky!

by Rachael Rowe

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