You CAN buy really nice Damson Gin (my Guide to Damsons lists 27 UK-based makers), but it’s sooo easy to make and so tasty that you really ought to have a go yourself – it’s hard to go wrong!
In a nutshell (or, ideally, a big jar) you cover damsons with gin, add a bit of sugar, and leave to steep* for a few months. As damsons are gathered in late Summer/early Autumn in the UK, damson gin is often made to be ready for Christmas. Here’s how to make a dry Damson Gin.
*Steep – ‘soak food in liquid so as to extract its flavour’ (OED)
Damson Gin kit
Damsons – enough to be covered by the gin
Gin – the better the gin you put in the better the Damson Gin at the end (maybe!), but I use supermarket own brand 37.5 degrees proof with no complaints
Sugar – white granulated from cane or sugar beet, or brown/Muscovado if you like
A pin/needle/knife to prick the damsons
A Kilner-type jar or similar to put the damsons, gin & sugar in to steep
Screw-top or stoppered bottles (HP Sauce bottles are ideal) to decant the finished Damson Gin into if you want to present & store it this way
A sieve, colander and jug, and maybe kitchen towel to help with decanting & filtering
If you have a 75cl bottle of gin, pour 75cl of water into the jar and tip in as many damsons as you can fit in while still covered by the water. This will be the maximum amount of damsons you’ll need. You can add more gin if the jar has room – I like to fill the jar as high as possible to limit the air gap at the top. Tip the damsons into a colander to remove the water.
Rinse the jar, and blast it dry in a low oven for few minutes, then take it out to cool. Prick a few holes into each damson with a pin, needle or sharp knife and drop them one-by-one into the jar. For this tart version, sprinkle a teaspoon or two of sugar over the pricked damsons, when the jars are 1/3 full, 2/3 full, and full (add more sugar to give a sweeter taste, if desired). Pour the gin into the jar and make sure the damsons are covered, close the top, and twist vigorously to shake it all up a bit.
Put the jar in a cool, dry, dark place, until just before Christmas. You really don’t need to shake or turn it every day, or at all after the initial twisting, because there’s very little sugar to dissolve. If you use more sugar, you might need to shake daily for a while.
Near Christmas, thoroughly wash and rinse the bottles, blast them dry in the oven, and take out and let them cool. Pour the gin from the jar through a sieve, lined with kitchen towel, coffee filter paper or muslin, into a jug, then into the bottles.
Screw or push the tops on, make some labels and give as Christmas presents (save a few for yourself !). This dry version makes for a wonderful anytime tart sip; or mix with tonic, ice and lemon for a cool refreshing summertime drink.
Gin-soaked boozy damsons
It’s tempting to make a fruit pie with the swollen, ginny damsons that you’ve filtered out, but this is best avoided as they are very alcoholic ! However, you could take out the stones, chop the damsons into pieces and drop them into melted chocolate that you’ve poured into ice cube trays, to make damson gin chocolates. Or, you can put the ginny damsons in a jar, cover them with another drink such as cider or tonic water, close the lid, and after a day or two strain off the fruit and drink that!
The gin will keep for a couple of years easily (try making it last that long!), but you may find you have to pour older batches through a filter again to strain out any blobby bits – that’s home-made for you!
You can make Sloe Gin in exactly the same way, substituting sloes for damsons. You can also make Damson Vodka, Brandy or Whisky by changing the spirit you steep the fruit in.
Some ginners simply freeze and defrost the damsons rather than pricking, and claim that this intensifies the flavour, but I find this results in soft, mushy damsons – and, anyway, I enjoy the ritual of drupe stabbing!
See my How To Make Damson Gin video – the most-viewed how-to-make-damson-gin video on YouTube!