An odd combination don’t you think? Why flavour a valuable bottle of gin with Sloes or Damsons…it seems like it would be much more palatable. It would also be quite ordinary. It is an ambition of mine to try the things that occur on this planet that are out of the ordinary, what could be better than infusing a perfectly good bottle of gin with some serious chlorophyll!
I have always found Gin and the addition of Tonic is truly the mark of the British Empire, it even tastes old and sophisticated. When sipping away on a good old G&T outside in the summer, I often think of Gin- soaked old boys with monocles sitting on a veranda of their massive house in India talking of empire expansion and infusing their bodies with a much needed hit of quinine, a primary ingredient in the tonic to prevent malaria. The product of an over active imagination, maybe. This was when it was seen as important to drink as prevention from disease, imagine that.
The spirit itself hails from Holland and was formulated around the 17th century. Gin’s popularity in Blighty exploded around the 1720’s when the British government placed massive duty tax on all imported spirits at the same time as allowing unlicensed gin production in Britain. By the 1740’s gin production was 6 times that of beer and it was incredibly cheap. I very much doubt it was to the standard of today’s Bombay Sapphire, Blanton’s or Gordon’s, but more like a Somerfield or ASDA brand Gin, nice!
So, as spring is sprung what has Gin got to do with it? For a start the weather has become delightful and we have begun to allow our pasty white bodies to bask in the sun and enjoy a refreshing alcoholic beverage outdoors. Pimms o’clock is not necessarily a certain hour of the day either, the parks of London on a hot day are packed full of groups of people out getting sozzeled in the sun. Do we Brits have a drinking problem? Of course we do, along with the rest of the continent! Except we try to hide it, a large percentage of Europeans happily knock back a bottle of Vino on their lunch breaks. The upstanding British Citizen would love to do just that, but we have to hold face, we are not like that Euro trash we say, we don’t want your funny money because we have the pound; WE ARE BRITISH!
Anyway, this is where the Beech comes in, at this time of year the young leaves are just coming through and are ready to be added to a sumptuous salad or stuck in a bottle of gin. This is not an exact science and there are hundreds of variations on this theme. I find the straight up natural approach to this is best. Find plenty of young beech leaves ideally no bigger than a 2 pence piece. Stuff them into a clear, sterilised bottle to the top and fill up with gin. Gordon’s is my favourite for this type of boozy tomfoolery. Store your hooch in a dark place for two weeks. Then drain out the gin and decanter into a fresh bottle. Simple.
Why not, the idea for mixing beech leaves with gin is twofold. Firstly the colour, the leaves impart a fantastic rich lime green colour to the gin so it almost looks slightly radioactive, this also looks interesting when mixed up in a glass. Secondly it imparts a fresh, slightly bitter taste to the gin, think gin and bitter lemon, to me the drink now holds the essence of spring. In the same way you can bottle this essence in the form of birch sap wine, but we will save that for another time. A nice tip for having a perfect G&T is to freeze tonic water into ice cubes and use those instead of diluting your drink with tasteless water from ordinary ice.
You don’t have much time left to get at those young beech leaves packed full of good things for the body, to mix it with something that is deemed, in excess, bad for the body is fine because the two will cancel each other out! This ‘recipe’ couldn’t be easier and is worth a go. To be able to bottle up the most invigorating time of year is a symbol of new life and good things to come- the summer. To be able to put together two great British flavours into a refreshing après work aperitif is a perfect way to relax, sit out in you own garden and think about building your own empire.