Greenall’s Sloe Gin – a Seasonal Speciality:
What on earth was a dyed in the wool Londoner doing making her way up north to try gin at Greenall’s in Warrington?
Gentle reader, if like me you thought gin came from London your world may be about to disintegrate. The inventor of gin is believed to be Franciscus Sylvius, a physician from Holland, who first used it for medicinal purposes in 1550. The mixture he created, Jenever, was the origin of the phrase ‘Dutch Courage’ – something the English got hold of when fighting the Spanish in the Thirty Years’ War. And, when the war was over, they took the spirit home with them and created their own version. Even that was nothing much like the Gin that most of us drink today – although there’s something of a resurgence of ‘Old Tom’ Gin made to the recipe used during the 17th and 18th Century in England – it’s sweeter than the London Dry which most of us know and love and drier than Jenever.
By around 1790, London was producing over 90% of English Gin from more than 40 distilleries. The style of gin had evolved to something closer to what is called London Dry today. But, there’s no legal requirement that London Dry is produced in London (although it does have to be made in the UK). It’s a style of gin-making where the botanicals need to be added during the distilling process rather than later on. And, no added sugar or colouring is allowed. While gin is still produced in London today, the oldest continuous gin distillers in the world are in Warrington, the producers of Greenall’s Gin. And it was there I ventured to find out more about my favourite Christmas tipple, Sloe Gin.
If I was a little more organised and travelled a little less, I’d make my own Sloe Gin. You can pick sloes from the hedgerows across much of the English countryside and then all you need is patience to let your fruit macerate and infuse the gin properly. But instead, I’ll content myself with the Greenall’s version, especially now I’ve seen it being made.
The trip up to the Warrington distillery was a fascinating insight into modern gin production. Greenall’s makes a fifth of the world’s gin at the site – around 30% of all gin consumed in the UK. When Thomas Dakin set up a distillery in Bridge Street Warrington in 1761 he is unlikely to have had any idea of the gin empire that he’d be creating. But, his grandson, Edward leased the business to his friend Edward Greenall, whose family owned breweries in Warrington and St Helens, in 1860 and sold it outright in 1870. In 1894 the Distillery was renamed G&J Greenall’s after Edward’s younger brothers Gilbert and John. Now owned by the Quintessential Brands group, the distillery is the UK’s second biggest.
Thomas Dakin’s recipe for Greenall’s Original is a closely guarded secret that has only been ever disclosed to the line of seven Master Distillers. Joanne Moore, the current Master Distiller is one of the world’s first and finest gin masters and it’s her role to preserve that tradition. Her work involves sourcing the best botanicals – wild Tuscan juniper berries, coriander from Morocco and England (!) and angelica root from Germany make up what she calls the ‘holy trinity’ – three botanicals present in all of the range from the Greenall’s Distillery.
That includes Bloom and Ophir and a number of other specialist gins as well as the ever-popular Greenall’s. Then, the recipe changes so that, for example, Greenall’s also contains orris, almond, cassia bark, lemon peel and liquorice root.
Each botanical is carefully tested as an individual distillate – we got the chance to smell, though not to taste the alcohol produced. Then, we went on to my favourite part of the event – tasting both the original gin and the sloe gin.
We’d already seen the sloe gin production line – an artisan line which operated at one-tenth of the speed of the two high-speed lines (filling just 40 bottles a minute) – and we’d learnt that Greenall’s Sloe Gin is made with sloes from Bulgaria.
Apparently, sloe gin has its own EU classification which means you can add a little juice to the gin if you want, but here they simply macerate the whole berries in an alcoholic base spirit with three parts juniper and coriander to one part angelica root. The berries are macerated for eight weeks, hand turned every day for the first week and then turned on a weekly basis. Sugar is added to the mixture to create the perfect sloe gin, something I like neat (as the tasting reminded me) as well as mixed into cocktails. I think it’s something of a bargain – priced at around £1.00 to £1.50 more than Greenall’s original but a true artisan product.
After the tasting we went on to enjoy yet more sloe gin in the form of cocktails, along with a delicious lunch.
I loved the 1761 Royale – just 25ml of Greenall’s Sloe Gin to 50ml of Prosecco. And I think the ‘Take it Sloe’ toddy which we just got a taste of would be just perfect for a chilly Halloween or Bonfire night.
Easy hot toddy made with Greenall's Sloe Gin
- 50 ml Greenall's Sloe Gin
- 100 ml Cloudy Apple Juice
- 50 ml Orange Juice
- 1 Cinnamon Stick
- 2 Cloves
Pour the sloe gin into a toddy glass
Warm the juices gently with the cinnamon and cloves for 5-6 minutes until they are infused
Pour the warm liquid into the Greenall's sloe gin and garnish with an orange wheel and cinnamon stick
And, surprisingly, I had no problem pairing the delicious food – both sweet and savoury – with the cocktails. ‘Edward’s Breakfast’ pictured below, is just Greenall’s Sloe Gin and ginger ale with lime wedges – it’s perfect with savoury food.
While, Sloe Time (Sloe Gin, Cloudy Lemonade, thyme and lemon) worked well for me with the chocolate ganache dessert!
As I normally drink my sloe gin neat (in small and responsible quantities!), I was delighted to discover how well it worked in cocktails. I’m not a fan of overly sweet cocktails but enjoyed all of those I tasted, perhaps thanks to the tart sloe and bitter gin.
With many thanks to Greenall’s for a delightful day up North. I’m looking forward to making some of the cocktails at home – and trying some of my own concoctions too.