Friday, September 4, 2015

Damson Gin

The mulberry vodka I started a couple of weeks ago is now happily and peacefully maturing under my bed. Along with mulberries it has the memory of a hot August day spent illicitly acquiring fruit in it (there's a quince tree near the mulberry which I also had my eye on, but the park gardeners have gone and pruned the poor thing which means all the fruit that would have been within reach is now on a compost heap somewhere. I am not happy about this). Mulberries were only a matter of weeks ago but the season has definitely changed, no longer late summer but early autumn, and today's damsons were acquired in a perfectly legal manner.

I get a little bit obsessed by damsons, and quinces for that matter, neither are impossible to get hold of but both are elusive enough to present a challenge. Last year was a poor one for damsons round my way and I failed to get any at all from any source. This year is looking more positive, on a cool and frequently wet day (no romantic summer memories to attach to this lot) I managed to secure the last two punnets on the farmers market. That gave me two kilos of quite small very dark damsons to play with. They would have been a pain for jam making - to much stone and skin not enough flesh, okay for jelly, and perfect for gin.

I'm not going to make any great claims for the damson gin recipe I use, (and as it's basically damsons, half the weight of damsons in sugar, half fill a sterilised jar with the damsons, add the sugar, fill with gin, calling it a recipe is almost something of an exaggeration, however the results have always been most satisfactory) but I do have one very good tip. Use a decent gin.

In my young day if you wanted damson or sloe gin you had to make it. You could, and can still, buy a Gordon's sloe which tastes a lot like cough mix. It's not unpleasant but it always seemed a bit pointless, though at least back then it came in a pretty bottle. I favour damson gin rather than sloe because in town you can at least occasionally buy damsons (picking sloes presents more if a challenge), and because they're that bit fruitier (less cough mixey). What with progress, and the current love affair with gin it's now fairly easy to get very good sloe and damson liqueurs from Plymouth, Hayman's and Sipsmith amongst others- for a price. Though as a nice man from Sipsmith's pointed out it's expensive because they're using their own excellent gin or vodka as a base.

I've never really understood how someone happy to spend upwards of £25 on 50cl of someone else's sloe gin will, when it comes to making their own, insist on the cheapest possible spirit. The cheapest gins are often made from a molasses based spirit (same as rum, and useful to know if you want to be sure it's gluten free) with the juniper and other botanical flavours added as essences and without re distillation (compound gin). For not very much more you can get a grain based gin that's been distilled with its botanicals in the proper manner (Sainsbury's is generally a good bet for finding something decent on offer in the UK). It's the price of a coffee well spent, the end results will be noticeably better and home made will once again be the best.  


  1. I so agree that it takes a good spirit to make a good liqueur. I shall be foraging for Sloes very soon.

    1. With gin I think it really matters, and probably brandy too - not necessarily expensive, but not the very cheapest either. Good luck with the sloes.

  2. Earlier this year, while in France I made cherries in eau-de-vie, using cherries from the supermarket, which were cheap and plentiful back in June, and supermarket Alcool pour fruits (Alcohol for fruit) cheap at 13 euros a litre bottle. It is a clear spirit, 40 percent proof with not a lot of taste but the cherries and sugar impart their own. I've also made, in January, when the Seville oranges are in, Orange brandy, which is made with Seville oranges, sugar and brandy ( cheapish Spanish is fine for this) I can then make marmalade with the brandy -soaked sliced oranges.

  3. Flavourless spirits are more accommodating, a 40%abv is pretty good too. A lot of the cheaper vodka we get in the UK would be around 37%. I'm all for Spanish brandy, it tends to be much better value than French, and although slightly different in character not necessarily lower in quality. It depends what fruit you're using as well I guess. I was going to say that I wish we had better access to alcohol for fruit in the UK, but by the time it had been taxed it wouldn't be anything like cheap so it doesn't really matter. The problem with it being expensive is that I've made some horrible fruit concoctions (there was a rhubarb vodka that smelt and tasted of cabbage... I don't know why) and it ends up ghosting so much it puts me off further experimentation.