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Go With The Sloe – How to Make Sloe Gin

It’s autumn in the UK, which means it’s the perfect season for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in the countryside. We are lucky to have many sloe (blackthorn) bushes in our local area and one of our favourite things to do at this time of year is to make sloe gin.

Sloe gin is a liquer made from gin and sloes, although other alcohol bases can be used. Unlike gin, which is quite perfumed, sloe gin is much sweeter, deriving its flavour from the fruit infusing into the alcohol as well as some added sugar.

Gin is a very fashionable drink these days, with a huge number of flavours and variations available, as well as it forming the base of a vast array of liquers and cocktails. Sloe gin is available commercially but if you have access to sloe bushes it is great fun to make your own.

It’s a really easy process and you can adapt it to your personal taste. It just needs a little patience.

Here’s a flow chart – or, if you will, sloe chart:

How do make sloe gin

This is what the colour will look like after around three months. You can see that already the gin has acquired the colour of the berries.

Cheers!

Postscript – sloe gin is also great if you pop the bottle into the freezer for a couple of hours. The alcohol doesn’t freeze fully but becomes slightly syrupy. It’s delicious, so remember to keep some back for summertime.

As with all foraging, do make sure you are 100% certain about the fruit that you are picking. There are some great identification guides.

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Spirit of the Sea – A Visit to Fisher’s Gin Distillery at Aldeburgh

Suffolk, in East Anglia, located on the east coast of England, is a beautiful rural county and a fine place for foodies to visit.  It’s famous for its pig farming and high quality pork as well as the seafood bounty from its 50 mile coastline. Adnam’s brewery is also based in Suffolk and most pubs in the area seem to be associated with them. Suffolk can also boast the closest gin distillery to the sea.

Fishers Gin is located in the coastal town of Aldeburgh and the team aim to capture the flavours of the area in their gin using locally foraged botanicals such as samphire and sea purslane. The distillery is located right by the seashore – literally a stone’s throw from the beach. They offer tours of the distillery – an afternoon tour and, later, a sundowner, which has all the elements of the earlier tour but you also get to taste some local food and go home with a Fishers tote bag and a gin mug. We opted for the sundowner.

On arrival we were greeted with a warm, “Hello, would you like a G&T?” which is one of the best possible welcomes. The G&T (a double, of course) comprised Fishers original gin accompanied by a can of Double Dutch tonic water which contains less quinine than traditional tonic waters and hence is less bitter. The G&T was served in a rather splendid tin cup, a nice change from those enormous balloon glasses full of ice that seem to be so trendy these days. Ice and a slice were mandatory of course, but the ice cube was very large, so it kept the G&T cold and did not to dilute the gin. (Note to self: make very large ice cubes in future.) The garnish was a slice of dried orange and a sea purslane leaf. The gin itself is a London Dry Gin but is unusual because many of the botanicals are particularly savoury and have a salty edge to them. Samphire (rock and marsh samphire are both used in this gin) and sea purslane are key ingredients, foraged locally, and both have a flavour which subtly recalls the taste of the sea.

After watching an audio visual display about the local area and botanicals we met the still, which is named Watson after the owner’s dog. The gin making process was explained to us: The botanicals infuse in the base spirit for 16 hours before distillation. There are three outputs from the still: the head (the first few litres of liquid that emerge from the condenser), the heart and the tail (the last few litres). Like whisky, the head and tail are discarded.

As part of the tour we learned about the history of gin – that it originated in the Netherlands – and also about the different botanicals used in the gin-making process by making a botanical tea. We were provided with the botanicals and an empty teabag (as well as another G&T to help the process) and tasted a variety of flavours.  

Juniper is the flavour that defines gin as gin, so that was an essential. Then we experimented with various quantities of the botanicals used in Fishers gin to create a unique tea. Each ingredient was crushed using a dinky pestle and mortar to extract the oils and hence maximise the flavours.

The teabags were then infused in a cup of boiled water and we could taste how our particular combination of botanicals worked together.

After making the tea we were invited to a tasting. There were three gins on offer: Fishers original, Fishers Fifty (which is stronger, having an ABV of 50%) and Fishers Smoked.

The smoked gin used botanicals that had been smoked at Orford smoke house, just down the road from Aldeburgh, for six days. Curiously, you can almost smell smoked fish on the nose but the finished gin is smooth on the palette, loses any fishiness but retains a gorgeously subtle smoky flavour. What is particularly interesting about this gin is the way that Fishers use savoury flavouring in their gins. Salt won’t get through the distillation process but the oils from the botanicals allow some subtly salty flavours to come through. Fishers also have a small still to experiment with flavours when developing a new gin. 

And finally, we were offered a platter of local specialities: smoked mackerel pate from Orford, sesame hummus, sourdough and smoked salmon from l’Escargot deli, smoked cheddar and Stilton style cheeses from Orford.

And the evening was rounded off with a couple of cocktails. A Negroni which comprised of Fishers Gold, Campari and sweet vermouth in equal measure and a Mule which contained Fishers Smoked, ginger ale and lime. Both were delicious.

The Fishers team were very friendly, the tour was informative and the tastings hugely enjoyable (hic!). We ended up chatting with our hosts for much longer than the planned tour time as they were so welcoming and accommodating. The experience is highly recommended.

We attended this experience using our own resources.

The House of Booze, er Bols, in Amsterdam

Visit House of Bols in Amsterdam

In 1575 the Bols family set up a liquor distillery in Amsterdam.

You thought gin was British? Think again! Genever was the juniper flavoured liquor from which gin eventually evolved and is specific to the Netherlands. There are two types: oude (old) and jonge (young). Oude is an older process and distilled from malt, jonge is the later type and contains more grain, giving a lighter flavour rather than the richly developed flavours of the oude.

You can visit the House of Bols in Amsterdam which is a combination of a museum and drinking emporium. It’s just round the corner from the Rijksmuseum, one of the world’s greatest art galleries. Handy tips: Go to the Rijksmusem first and admire the amazing art, then nip, via the eminently Instagrammable IAmsterdam park, to the House of Bols. Admiring the art whilst a little bit squiffy might not be the best way to appreciate Rembrandt and the other Dutch Masters’ finest paintings.

Obviously you need to be over 18 to partake of any alcohol on offer but the museum element is also interesting.

There are a variety of experiences you can choose from. Our ticket gained entrance to the museum, a cocktail at the end of the tour and two shots of booze from the enormous selection on offer in the shiny mirror bar.

History of The House of Bols

The tour takes you on a journey through the history of the company.

The House of Bols Amsterdam

You get to visit the flavour hall where you learn about how you taste and get to sample the multitude of flavours on offer. (Bear in mind that some of the flavour exercises you can try, given you are in Holland, may result in a liquorice-y taste sensation which really isn’t at all fun if you don’t like liquorice)

The House of Bols Amsterdam

There is an amazing array of tastes to experience. Have a whiff then try to guess the flavour – the answer is given beneath the number on the wall.

The House of Bols Amsterdam
The House of Bols Amsterdam

Then it’s onto the technicalities of how to make genever and the history of distilling. This way…

The House of Bols Amsterdam

House of Bols Mirror Bar

And finally to the mirror bar.

You can choose a cocktail using the electronic machines which help you determine your ideal cocktail via a series of options and then ask the bartender to make it for you. Best Cocktail Ever: The Bols Bloody Mary.

And this particular incarnation had (vegetarians look away now)… bacon! Bols vodka, tomato, lemon juice, spicy Tabasco heaven WITH ADDED BACON. Deep joy.

Our ticket allowed a further two shots from the magnificent selection. You could try to recall which flavours had tickled your nostrils in the house of flavour but we found that a more interesting alternative was to try the neat genever shots so that we could taste the difference between the different types. You can, for example, compare an oude genever and jonge genever. Jonge is a clearer gin, more akin to vodka, whereas oude has a maltier taste with a complexity of flavour you might associate with whisky. Both hugely enjoyable though.

Sorry that the following photo is slightly out of focus but we were mildly sozzled when we took the shot of the shots…

The House of Bols Amsterdam Jenever

If you’re interested in other cocktail recipes they can be found here: