Today is national gin day and never has this infused spirit been more popular. It is thought to have originated in Holland in the Middle Ages and its consumption became widespread in Britain when William of Orange was on the throne.
Gin is a neutral spirit predominantly flavoured with juniper with the addition of spices, citrus, roots and seed.
When I first tasted gin it reminded me of when you accidentally swallow hair spray! Thankfully the quality is vastly better now and we have two excellent craft distillers in Northern Ireland making this aromatic liquor.
David and Fiona Boyd-Armstrong make Shortcross Gin at the Rademon Estate near Downpatrick. Their gin is uniquely flavoured with foraged clover from the surrounding countryside, elderflower and elderberries, local apples and spices.
The drink itself appears on the drinks lists of the best restaurants across the UK and Ireland and is listed in the elite food shop, Fortnum and Mason in London. It’s also popping up as an ingredient in restaurant dishes.
Curing salmon in gin makes the most of two great local products. Take 500g of Glenarm salmon and place skin down on a dish. Mix 100g brown sugar with 75g sea salt and 75ml local gin. Rub all over the top and wrap in cling. Leave for 48 hours in the fridge, turning over half way. Wash in cold water and slice thinly. Serve with dill dressed cucumber and radishes with buttered wheaten bread.
The newest gin on the scene is Jawbox, produced at the Echinville Distillery in Strangford. A Jawbox was the name given to a Belfast sink as it was the focal point of the home, where people gathered round to gossip and put the world to rights. The predominant notes on this variety are juniper, pine, citrus and spice, giving it a completely different flavour profile to Shortcross.
Both gins are great with tonic and ice or as an ingredient in cocktails. I’ve included a recipe for a long gin cocktail that I developed at Seafest Bangor last weekend. I borrowed a space on one of the barbecues at the festival and grilled two pink grapefruit until the flesh was slightly charred. It has the addition of North Coast smokehouse smoked black pepper. A friend of mine adds some cracked black pepper to gin and the extra smoke works equally as well. It sounds weird but the spice and citrus in the gin go beautifully together.
Gin makes a wonderful drink accompaniment to finger food recipes using smoked salmon, grilled fish and game but is also a complex addition to recipes. I’ve added one for an apricot cake with gin and orange. Apricots are at their best now and the spicy, bitter notes of gin and zesty orange cut through their fragrant sweetness.
Every November I pick sloes from a secret stash in Aghadowey and infuse them with gin and sugar to make sloe gin. While it’s refreshing to drink with good local apple juice and sparkling water it goes exceptionally well with game dishes. My last recipe is for an onion jam with sloe gin that I’ve paired with venison sausages but it works equally well with duck, pigeon or even grilled pork.
Happy Gin day and remember it’s not just for tonic!