Daffy’s Limited Edition Red Gooseberry Gin
Our Red Gooseberry Gin Expedition
This summer on a sunny day chat with Red magazine, they suggested to us the idea of a joint foraging trip to make a seasonal limited edition gin together. There is little in life that we enjoy more than foraging with family and friends and turning our finds into great gin so zero persuasion was required!!
The timing for this was perfect as in late summer/ early autumn, in the Scottish Highlands as the ancient foraging saying goes, ‘when the sun’s up, breakfast is served’. In the Cairngorm National Park around Strathmashie Distillery it is a forager’s/ botanical hunter’s dream.
Alex Hale, who looks after food and drink for Red and I picked a date, planned a route down the River Spey on paddle boards, to throw in a spot of adventure, got in touch with a local soft fruit grower and started to get very excited! I told Alex ‘a spot of adventure’ but with the raging, deafening, waterfall torrents of icy highland river in full flow, I can say without any fear of contradiction from Alex, who had until this point never stood on a paddle board before, this certainly made it a bit more exciting than the average foraging trip!!
Alex has a very impressive CV in the world of fine drinks and the two of us were agreed that what we wanted to create was a completely fresh and different angle in making a great classic-style gin with a twist. We decided that we wanted to use whole freshly picked red gooseberries but as a full strength gin with as much finesse as possible and not as a sweet liqueur. We wanted to both distil and infuse our gin with fresh red gooseberries and other complimentary foraged botanicals to create a gin that was unlike any other.
Red Gooseberry is a seldom used but is a very special fruit with an intense and sharp red berry flavour with acidity and sweetness that stands out in its own right but lets the other flavours in a fine and complex gin stand out.
Rory, our local soft fruit grower in Montrose luckily grows that best red gooseberries that we have come across so we secured enough fresh fruit for our first batch and started foraging for the rest.
Back in the day, Scottish juniper ruled the gin planet. Scotland was famous for its juniper, supplying the Dutch with their Genever crop and the British with the Old Tom London Dry Gin juniper. Scottish juniper these days is rare and endangered but the quality remains supreme and for those like Alex and I who know how to find it, we can share it in our small batch gin distillations.
Scottish juniper gets a bit more rain and a fair bit less sun than its Mediterranean cousins so it’s flavour is softer, lighter and more subtle but with a great complexity and flavour. Therefore, when balancing out the rest of the botanicals in the gin, great care needs to be taken not to overpower the light and subtle notes of this Cairngorm juniper.
Harvesting the juniper is not so subtle. Sheets below the tree, heavy whacking sticks out and beat the tough spiny branches to within an inch of their weather-beaten ancient Highland lives! The deep purple ripe berries fall, you pick out the fallen spiny needles that can sting a bit and the spiders and centipedes and their friends, sift through the older brown berries that have hung on since last year and then you are in the gin making game!!
Understanding the juniper being used in the gin is the first step in understanding the foundations for the rest of the gin. Juniper is one of the most complex botanicals there is, with around 30 different distinct flavour notes or congeners once distilled. The weight of the initial juniper notes of spice, pine, grassiness, woodiness etc will determine how best to select the other botanicals that will sit alongside to compliment and build the flavour profile of the gin. In this case not the plant Scabia.. On our river trip we found the beautiful and rare river mint, hard to find and much more earthy than spearmint and the other more common varities. We pruned selectively and likewise for the other botanicals that we found along the way and the other star of the trip was yarrow leaves which once distilled adds fine clear herbal notes that sit under but compliment the juniper and gooseberry with a layer of earthy greatness.
Scabia we’d read lots about and our chief botanical expert Gill had us to look out for it as it is famed for being medicinal and good for curing Scabies in times past, easy to identify, edible and perhaps could be good to distil with- it aint! Some edible plants are a hit and some you should miss.. this one is definitely a miss.. notes of wet dog at best.
The Grand Finale – Daffy’s Limited Edition Red Gooseberry Gin
After narrowly having escaped death in the waterfalls and rapids and spending time understanding the character and intensity of the botanicals that we had selected and distilled using our trial still, we weighted them out and distilled the final masterpiece – Cairngorms juniper, Spey river mint and yarrow, red gooseberries and a whole lot of love. The result for you to taste, is a gin that is rich and full of red gooseberry fruit and vanilla on the nose, soft and buttery with delicate juniper and herbal yarrow on the palate and the earthy river mint wonderfulness on the finish. We think it’s a work of genius but then again we are quite modest and in any event it was a tonne of fun to make and create. Enjoy!