Gin is big in Spain. And so is the way they serve it. The instantly recognisable Gin Tonica is extravagantly served in a large fishbowl glass with generous mountains of ice and a tempting array of garnishes. Now one of Spain’s signature serves is making it big over here too with The Distillery’s Gin Tonica Bar launching last year. But if you can’t make it over to Spain, or indeed to West London, David T. Smith has just launched his own Gin Tonica book to help you make your very own Spanish cocktails at home.
The world of gin is a fast-paced one and there are few places where that is more evident than at Junipalooza. Last year, I attended as a lucky competition winner and it was that experience that spurred me on to start this blog. This year, I was fortunate enough to be invited back as a “gin-sider”, so to speak. And I’m not the only one: last year Finlay and Eileen Geekie attended as members of the public; this year they were behind the stall of their very own, highly acclaimed, Colonsay Gin.
Rich, warming and slightly spicy sloe gin is, for me, the quintessential festive tipple. It is also the perfect beverage to have in your cabinet at this time of year; a highly versatile drink that can add Christmas cheer to any number of cocktails but is also deliciously comforting, and still rather special, served neat. I love making (and serving) my own sloe gin but it does require a little organisation and a lot of patience. And, although there are ways to improve the standard of your homemade sloe gin, there’s no guarantee of quality or consistency. If it’s quality you want, where better to go than to Sipsmith where the craft gin renaissance began, and where I also happened to begin my own gin journey.
Think of Switzerland and you probably think of chocolate, watches and cuckoo clocks. You probably don’t think of spirits. And yet Switzerland has a relationship with absinthe that rivals that of the UK’s with gin. Absinthe originated in Switzerland in the late 18th century and rapidly earned itself such a reputation for damaging public health that it was officially outlawed in 1910. The ban on the sale and production of absinthe wasn’t lifted until 1 March 2005, during which time the spirit had become the pride of local bootleggers!
As the nights draw in and the temperatures begin to drop, the promise of picking sloes from the hedgerows to transform into a deep mid-winter treat can set the spirits soaring. The first thing you’ll have to do, though, is find a Blackthorn tree – and if you’re not confident, please do some research. You really don’t want to end up with Deadly Nightshade gin by mistake! I picked mine in deepest, darkest Dorset with all the family, kids and dogs in tow (there’s nothing quite like a bit of child labour after all!), but if you can’t find them in the wild you should be able to pick them up at a market or even online.
I know it’s only October, but if you’ve got kids (as I do) they’re probably already writing their Christmas lists and what better way to get through the nagging than planning a few festive treats for yourself and your gin-loving friends? But why wait until the big day when you can start celebrating on December 1st with one of these amazing advent calendars!
There is, I think, a fine line between being brave and foolhardy, determined and bloody-minded. For better or worse, perhaps they are all necessary character traits to build a business and to succeed with spirits. There is, after all, a lot to get right when you launch a new gin: the branding; the bottle; the marketing; and the product itself of course. JJ Lawrence certainly got his teeth stuck in when he decided three years ago to follow his passion and produce a new luxury British gin and he didn’t let anything stand in his way.
It is fairly common for a new distillery to start making gin before moving onto whisky. Gin, which can be sold as soon as it is made, offers a relatively quick financial return in comparison with whisky which (due to legal requirement) must be aged before it is commercially viable. This helps to explain why approximately 70% of the gin produced in the UK is made in Scotland. What is much less common is for a gin to have its origins in whisky production, but this is the case in the story of Welsh distillery Dà Mhìle.
Rejoice, it’s elderflower season! Or it would be at least if it ever stopped raining. For the one time you don’t want to be picking elderflowers is when they are wet. But, assuming you can find a dry day or two, make sure you get out and pick some fragrant elderflower (ideally just as the buds are beginning to open) because it complements many gins wonderfully. You can make a cordial or gin (as below) but make sure you get working as quickly as possible as the elderflowers will start to turn brown within just a few hours of picking.