Sandy’s Garden ... Gardener’s Gin

It is Ailsa’s intention to serve gin-infused poached plum trifle to friends who will be joining us for dinner one evening quite soon.

Since the recipe’s authors include in the list of ingredients, ‘6 tbsp gin – we love damson gin but you can use any of your favourite fruity variety,’ we thought to buy the damson gin while we still remembered that Ailsa would need it when she made this dessert. And this took us to Falkirk, that mecca for all food enthusiasts.

Sandy Simpson

Sandy Simpson

There is excellent entertainment to be had nowadays from reading one’s way along the gin shelves of any supermarket. Quite apart from the ever-increasing number of brand names for gin, flavoured with a bewildering variety of common and exotic botanicals … Hendrick’s, Sipsmith, Bombay Sapphire, Caorunn, Suntory Roku, Plymouth, Tanqueray, Whitley Neil, Ophir, Gordon’s, Greenall’s, Bulldog, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh, Adnams, Chase, Silent Pools, Martin Miller, Gin Mare, Hyke, Ableforths and own label in one of the supermarkets … and the number of variants marketed by the larger players in the gin market, there is a bewildering variety of fruity and floral varieties on offer. “Settle down in the gin parlour,” this particular supermarket exhorts its on-line customers; and there’s a good half-hour’s entertainment to be had from reading one’s way along these brands’ labels in the shop!

Moving along to the ‘fruity’ gins, we find blackberry, blood orange, bramble, raspberry, strawberry and lime, rhubarb and ginger, gooseberry, pink grapefruit, wild berry, violet and many, many more on this supermarket’s shelves – but not damson. Well, the variety is so enormous that only a shop the size of an Amazon warehouse could possibly stock them all. So we read our entertaining way along the shelves of another three local supermarkets. Yes, although the ranges of brands of botanical gins … those which, as well as the essential juniper, are infused with other herbs and spices … are very similar, there are differences in the ranges of gins infused with extracts from fruit and flowers. There is one common factor, however; none of the shelves offers damson gin, nor plum gin, which must be very similar; and so we opt for bramble gin, produced locally using, the label assures us, Perthshire brambles. It should be an interesting ingredient in the gin-infused plum trifle.

This experience made me wonder about gin; if there are so many recently-established gin distillers, many of whom claim that their product is lovingly hand-crafted in small batches; and if the only essential botanical is juniper, which is why it’s called ‘gin’; and if gin can be infused with almost any fruit or flowers or even, it appears, vegetables from my garden, can I distil my very own, lovingly hand-crafted gin in my greenhouse? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, I can find a variety of websites with detailed descriptions of the items needed to assemble a still; of the ingredients I will need to have to hand; of the different stages in the distillation process; of the need to discard the unwanted … indeed, positively harmful if ingested … types of alcohol which will be produced along with the ‘heart’ of the distillate – the 40% that I want; and I can find detailed descriptions of how to perform every single stage in the multi-stage process to manufacture my very own gin. I can also find a plethora of websites from which I can buy everything which I will need and many optional extras to help me distil a better product; and I can set up my very own micro-distillery in my greenhouse, although a well-insulated garden shed would offer more satisfactory premises. But Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Excise Notice 39 … also to be found on the internet … tells me, in a nutshell, that I shall be in deep trouble with the law unless I have a licence and HMRC’s blessing, neither of which I am competent to obtain. Ah, dream on!