cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas.

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

afternoon tea · food · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wizard Exploratorium, London Soho

Continuing on with my love of all things tea-related, today’s blog post is a review of the Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea, currently available at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium in Soho, London. I visited this tearoom in June as part of a mini hen party for one of my best friends, Cherry, after we had to rearrange her main hen do to take place after her actual wedding (thanks, coronavirus!). So happy hen, Cherry!

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea

Harry Potter and the Unaffiliated Afternoon Tea

Right, first things first: this is a Wizard’s Afternoon Tea and definitely not a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea. If you’re looking for Harry Potter themed tea and confectionary, you better look elsewhere, friend – the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium is very clear that it is “broadly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction and is a place for fans of magic. It is not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling or otherwise connected with Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is also not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rivers of London, The Magicians, Dune, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, or otherwise connected with any one specific text or series.” Phew. It seems the folks at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium are understandably keen to avoid being the subject of a Bat-Bogey Hex from J.K. Rowling’s magical team of lawyers.

Our table (just a little bit crowded)

Now, onto the actual review…

A Magical Setting

When you step into the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium, the first thing you’re likely to notice in the downstairs shop area is the full-size unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, which dispenses (vomits?) a colourful punch drink – with a little encouragement from a real magic wand, of course. You’ll be led up a narrow staircase that’s more than a little reminiscent of some of the quirkier shops in Diagon Alley, to a teeny tiny room draped in flowers and buzzing to the sounds of a jaunty selection of folk tunes, where there’s just about enough space for three parties to sit down to tea at separate tables.

Your potion chest

Unfortunately, I do have to note at this point that this currently is definitely not an accessible experience. The tiny, very old-fashioned building in Soho features a steep and winding staircase. There is no wheelchair access and if you struggle with steep stairs or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend it either. They do cater for different dietary requirements and allergies, although as my husband wasn’t with us, I didn’t try any of the gluten-free options (sorry).

Interactive Tea Brewing

Your table is crowned by an enormous multi-tiered cake stand, topped with a glowing dragon’s egg a la Game of Thrones. Your friendly out of work actor waiter wizard will show you how to use a glowing magical wand to unlock a chest full of potion ingredients, and then it’s time to get creative and brew your own tea. This was actually my favourite part of the whole experience, and something that really sets it aside from other quirky afternoon teas on offer around London – the opportunity to pick and mix ingredients, add them to a teabag and brew up your own unique tea blend. The dried ingredients on offer are pretty diverse, including nettle tea, hibiscus, rose petals, camomile, and plenty more – and there are also a set of flavourings that can be added to the finished product, including honey and rose water. When you require hot water – sorry, I mean ‘magical elixir’ – you just wave your wand to summon a helpful waiter (very nearly as convenient as a simple aguamenti spell), and enormous Time Turners (a.k.a. hourglasses) are available so you can measure exactly how long your tea is brewing.

Our first attempt at blending tea

Using a magical QR code (okay, it’s not that magical) you can access a range of suggested blends that can be made with the ingredients. We made three different teas in total from our tea chest – the first one being a total wash out because I added far too much black tea and the result tasted exactly like a completely normal cup of breakfast tea. Oops.

Oddly, probably the best blend was the final one, which we created by adding all the ingredients we hadn’t yet used into a teabag and seeing what happened. The resulting infusion of peppermint, lemon and ginger, nettle and camomile was actually surprisingly good.

Crushing rose petals in a pestle and mortar

As well as creating your own blends with the magical tea chest, there is a second interactive wizarding tea experience on offer as part of the standard Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea; a series of three teas which start out a rather startling blue and then change colour before your eyes as you add the final ingredients – and wave your magic wand, of course. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also add a bottle of prosecco or a cocktail to your experience (and yes – we did get the prosecco, of course!).

Getting The Magical Munchies

And so – onto the food. We started with a round of sandwiches (or rather, sand-witches, as they’re referred to in the menu) which were certainly tasty and generously proportioned, but didn’t seem to come with any particularly magical gimmick. I can’t help but think that some slightly more unusual flavours or even shapes for the sandwiches would be a bit more in keeping with the theme – and with the level of effort put in to the rest of the menu.

Our second tea blend ended up unexpectedly blood red

The scones are a nod to elven lembas from Lord of the Rings, and come wrapped and tied neatly in banana leaf. They were perfectly tasty, but again it would have been fun to see the scones shaped and scored to look a little bit more like lembas and less like a scone that’s been randomly plopped into some foliage. Also worth noting: Cherry had to ask for extra clotted cream because the amount provided for three of us was wayyyy too small. This is a common issue with afternoon teas and offending tearooms should be ashamed – seriously, how much additional cost are you really incurring by adding an extra tablespoon of cream to your offering?

The other sweet treats ranged from fairly standard afternoon tea fare (raspberry mousse cake, macarons), to the more interactive (chocolate brownies with syringes of raspberry or chocolate sauce), to the downright quirky (freeze-dried salt water taffy in mystery flavours, freeze-dried skittles). Okay, so the quirky options leaned heavily towards the freeze-dried end of the afternoon tea spectrum, but they were actually surprisingly delicious and definitely felt like the kind of experience you wouldn’t get elsewhere. My only criticism is that the freeze-dried sweets didn’t seem to be available in the gift shop downstairs, which frankly felt like the company is missing a trick – I certainly would have bought some more of the taffy on my way out.

Freeze-dried taffy

Wizard’s Afternoon Tea: Overall Impressions

I would definitely recommend the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea experience. It’s all great fun and certainly much more interactive and engaging than the average afternoon tea where you just sit and slurp your way through pre-prepared drinks – perfect for a small hen party or group of friends, or great fun with kids (and yes, a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea is on offer). At £35 each (or £19 for under-11s), it’s not a cheap experience – but equally, afternoon tea at a nice hotel in central can easily set you back that much or far more, while being much less fun. The campy wizarding vibe is just right, the staff are fully committed to the experience, and most importantly – the tea and cake is pretty magical too.