A little lesson in distilling and gin appreciation…

I hope that you are all enjoying Kitty’s Storecupboard Gin Week as much as I am! This post has been written by ‘Australian Sarah’ (not ‘Winemaker Sarah’ or ‘my sister Sarah’) who was given the very difficult task of visiting one of the Edinburgh Distillery’s near where she lives, so that we can all better appreciate  the hard work that goes into making the smaller scale ‘craft’ gins which we  enjoy so much. Read this post with an Friday evening G&T in hand, and as Sarah concludes her piece ‘never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin’.

Happy Gin Week, and Happy Friday!

As an oompa loompa of science I find the world of distilling and brewing quite fascinating.  Basically Chemistry class for adults!  So to celebrate Gin Week and a couple of visitors from home I headed to Edinburgh’s first gin distillery in 150 years: Pickering’s, situated in Summerhall in Edinburgh’s south.  I had unfortunately missed out on Juniper Fest over the weekend and had already visited the Edinburgh Gin Distillery, so was keen to learn what made Pickering’s special.

Pickerings gin is based on an original Bombay recipe dating back to 1947 and kept as a family secret until it resurfaced in 2013 when Matt and Marcus began distilling at Summerhall.  The tour begins at the Royal Dick Bar in Summerhall, also home to one of Edinburgh’s breweries Barney’s Beer, with a G&T to sip throughout.Collage_Fotor

From the bar you are taken past the Mens room, then the Ladies, through winding corridors and over uneven ground to what used to be dog and cat kennels.  They have since been repurposed with some of the kennels used to store raw ingredients, gin and boxes.  But how do they make their gin?

A neutral grain spirit with 96%abv is piped into one of two copper stills on site, one called Emily, the other Getrude after Matt and Marcus’s great-grandmothers.  In the still the 9 botanicals are added and the spirit left to steep.Collage_Fotor2

The 9 botanicals that go in to making this tasty drop are juniper, coriander, cardamon, angelica, fennel, anise, lemon, lime and clove.  The two stills have an ingenious custom-designed bain marie heating system that provides a gentle simmer able to coax out their subtle, soft, highly drinkable flavours. gin_5b

After steeping, this bain marie system is used to heat the spirit to vapour.  As the heating begins this vapour is trapped in the ‘onion’ of the still, condenses and travels back down to the heart of either Emily or Gertrude.  This process of vapourising, condensing and travelling back to the spirit can occur up to 16 times before the spirit is warm enough for the vapour to bypass the onion and travel through the swan neck to the neighbouring condenser.

The condenser uses water that is stored in a local underground well to cool the vapour back to a liquid.  Similar to whisky distilling, the potable alcohol the distiller wants to capture has a boiling point of 78.2oC, with the first vapours to boil off being more volatile and known as the ‘heads’.  The heads include chemicals such as acetaldehyde (CH3CHO), acetone ((CH3)2CO) and esters (pretty sure I learnt about those in chemistry back in the day!).  Once the desired boiling point is reached the ethanol liquid is called the heart and piped through copper piping to one of three vats.  The heart will be ethanol.  The tails are left, containing water, carbohydrates and less volatile alcohols, all undesirable.  The tails will consist of 1-propanol (CH3CH2CH2OH), butyl alcohol (C4H10O), amyl (Isobutyl carbinol) and acetic acid (CH3COOH) to name a few.

The copper in the still and piping is very important as it helps produce an even, smooth flavour and impurities are left on the inside of the copper piping thereby keeping the spirit pure without excessive filtration.

Once stored in the vats the distillers will monitor the temperature and density of the spirit, regularly taking temperature and density readings and adding water until the desired alcohol content is arrived at.  Pickering’s Gin has 42%abv, slightly more than the required 37.5%abv to qualify as a London Dry Gin.  It is a particularly high tech process at Pickering’s, adding the water by hand in smaller and smaller quantities, stirring using a oar bought from an outdoor shop and taking individual measurements with thermometer and hydrometer then double checking them in a large book full of tables.

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This is a one-shot method, only mixing their end distillate with water to cut it to bottling strength, compared with larger distilleries who use more base spirit to stretch their distillate before cutting with water.

When the desired alcohol content is achieved then it is piped in copper pipes to the room next door where it is bottled by hand.  It is also stoppered and waxed by hand.

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Pickering’s you’ll know the bottle isn’t square, which makes attaching labels by hand consistently rather difficult.  The distillery is housed in part of Summerhall, an old Veterinary Hospital that is now home to many community groups including Edinburgh Hacklab.  This hacklab is a space for people to mess around with technology for fun so Pickering’s asked them to come up with something they could use to attach the labels, as they were worryingly close to their launch date and had a few hundred bottles to label.

The resulting machine is quite something, and is still going well considering it was designed to be used on a few hundred bottles and has now been used on over 60,000.

Once labels are attached, and the stoppers are waxed the bottles are boxed up and stored in the old dog kennels.  Throughout this whole process it s evident that everything is done by hand by a very small team, and it is definitely a labour of love.Collage_Fotor5.jpg

The original 1947 recipe was altered as they were creating a gin that goes perfectly with tonic, and it seems they have hit the nail on the head.  They also produce a Navy Strength gin, as official partners of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and have also created a gin using the original 1947 recipe which is a spicier, sweeter and more intense spirit.

Their most recent release has its beginnings in a trip around Scotland to the iconic whisky regions in search of the best casks they could find.  They then age their Original gin in one of five ex-Scotch malt whisky casks, and the result is truly something!

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Well that’s all from me today.  I hope you feel a little better informed about the process of creating one of my favourite gins.  I definitely believe a greater understanding of something leads to a much deeper appreciation of its beauty. So next time you sip that G&T ask yourself what botanicals are in it, how they affect the gin, whether it is a one or two shot distillate, and never forget how much love and care has been put into your handcrafted gin.

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… and that’s nearly the end of Gin Week guys and gals. Not quite though, because Winemaker Sarah and I are going on an unexpected little adventure tomorrow afternoon which we will share with you tomorrow – watch this space!

Gin and Tonic Tart!

Sarah* and I have been drooling over this recipe for months and we finally got around to  making it one sunny weekend in May; it certainly lived up to expectations! In Sarah’s own words…

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Serve with a decorative cat and some sunshine… and of course Gin!

When Kitty’s Kitchen came to visit me in deepest Hampshire (I like the idea of Kitty’s Kitchen being a vibe of relaxed and joyful cooking which follows me wherever I go – thanks Sarah! Ed.), a mere stone’s throw from the Bombay Sapphire distillery we made sure to put the local produce to good use. It seemed only right to make a Gin & Tonic tart we had been sharing with each other for over a year and I won’t go too heavily into detail because the recipe is pretty clear and the images speak for themselves.

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We found that the pastry shrank fairly dramatically in the oven (which could be a problem of temperature and humidity but is always a danger when one isn’t familiar with baking in a particular oven). I think it is worth being quite generous with the edges on a first attempt to avoid this since too much shrinkage leaves less base to contain your filling; I speak from experience!

However, the whole was very pleasing; the filling zesty and smooth, the pastry light and the syrup gave an excellent added tang. I am not normally a fan of fiddly desserts but this one came out excellently and I would certainly do it again.

The gin and tonic syrup kept very well in the fridge, so well that it made it back to Northamptonshire and became the base of a blended gin for my Grandmother who was finding her dry gin too sharp having been spoiled with Edinburgh Gin Elderflower Liqueur for Christmas.

* who I call ‘wine-maker Sarah’; as opposed to ‘Australian Sarah’ who is writing a post for us later in the week, my sister Sarah… and the many other lovely ladies in my life of that name.

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Gin and Dubonnet Sponge Cake

We are continuing to celebrate Kitty’s Storecupboard Gin Week, so in the words of the lovely Vicky…

I’ve always been one for a spot of baking (next to eating it’s my favourite thing!) and I’ve recently been pondering starting a blog so when Katherine asked me to do a guest post for her blog I was straight on it!

This particular post celebrates two national treasures – Her Majesty the Queen, and Gin. This year is queenies 90th birthday and this weekend it just happens to be World Gin Day. Legend has it that our Liz’s favourite tipple is the classic ‘gin and dubonnet’, so I decided it was only right and proper to use this as inspiration for my latest bake.

I’m always one for an easy life so decided to use a classic (and easy!) Victoria sponge as the basis for the cake. I can safely say the hardest part about it was finding somewhere that sells dubonnet! Sadly it’s not the most popular of drinks so can be hard to track down but definitely worth it – it’s got a light fruity flavour which works really nicely in this cake, and it’s not half bad in a gin cocktail either!

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Ingredients
6oz butter (actually I am a stork devotee but whichever you prefer)
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
6oz self-raising flour
3tbsp gin and dubonnet (equal measures, so 1.5tbsp of each)
300ml double cream
approx 3tbsp icing sugar (or to taste)
mixed fresh berries
200g white chocolate
optional glitter!

Method
Grease and line two 8″ round cake tins and preheat your oven to around 170oC fan.
As for a normal sponge, you could easily use the all in one technique but I used the traditional creaming method – cream the butter and sugar together until pale and light, then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a little flour with the last egg to prevent curdling, then gently fold in the remaining flour. Lastly fold in the alcohol then split the batter between the two tins as evenly as possible (you could weigh the tins if precision is your thing but I just guesstimate). Try and spread the batter with a dip in the middle which will offset any ‘doming’ during cooking. Then just bake in the oven for around 20-25 minutes.

Now I know most chefs will say baking is an exact science, blah blah, but I’m a bit more freestyle with my cooking…. use whatever size eggs take your fancy, if the batter curdles when you add the booze just give it an extra mix and chuck it in the tins, and the oven time is flexible – just keep an eye on them, after 20 mins check and then leave a bit longer if needed. You can check with a cake tester (or skewer/cocktail stick/knife) which will come out clean when the cake is ready but I prefer to just give it a prod – if the sponge bounces back rather than leaving a massive dent then you’re good to go!

Once the cake is done, leave to cool in the tins for about 5-10 mins then remove and leave on a cooling rack until completely cold. Whilst still warm brush the cakes with a mixture of gin and dubonnet – I used about 1.5tbsp but you could use more if you fancy. For a more intense flavour and an even more moist sponge you could poke holes all over and spoon alcohol over liberally (a la lemon drizzle cake).

Next gently whip the cream, adding icing sugar to taste – make sure not to over whip! A good tip is to keep some cream back and then if you do slightly over mix the cream you can add a bit more and fold through to slacken it off. Unfortunately this won’t work if you’ve gone so far it’s turned to butter! Spread about a third of the cream on one of the cakes (if it’s domed slightly during baking then trim it down so the top is level) then top with your mixed berries. I soaked the berries beforehand in gin and dubonnet and a teaspoonful of sugar, then drained them well before using but this is optional.

Top with the other cake and then cover the top and sides with the remaining cream. To make the white chocolate ‘collar’ measure around the cake (actually it’s much easier to measure around the tin!) and also measure the height of the cake then cut a strip of greaseproof paper to size and lay on a flat surface. For the sake of your kitchen you may want to lay a further sheet of greaseproof or cling film underneath as it does get messy! Melt your white chocolate (in the microwave or over a saucepan, either way remove from the heat once around 2/3 of chocolate has melted then beat until the remainder has melted, this makes sure you won’t burn it) and then simply spread over your greaseproof template. You want a layer a couple of millimetres thick to make sure it holds.

I sprinkled glitter on the greaseproof before spreading the chocolate to give a nice finish, I’ve also done this in the past with 100’s and 1000’s! You can also pipe the chocolate to make a design or use patterned transfer sheets for different effects. Leave the chocolate until it has set enough that it won’t drip or run when you move it but not so hard that you can’t bend it. (I have zero patience so I often cheat and slip a couple of ice packs under to speed this up but it’s a high risk tactic as it can set too hard very quickly). Then simply pick up your greaseproof and wrap around the cake – you need to do this quickly and press tight against the cake to hold so this is easier with two pairs of hands but not impossible to do single handed. Then straight into the fridge to set!

Once the chocolate collar has set hard simply peel off the greaseproof. Finally I decorated the top of the cake with more fresh berries and then glazed them. I used the juice/booze mix which I had soaked the other berries in, boiled until reduced by at least half, but you could use jam thinned down with a little water for a nice finish. Then last but not least I topped the whole thing off with a liberal sprinkling of gold glitter! After all, it’s hardly a celebration without some sparkles around.

And it’s as simple as that 🙂

You can read more about baking in honour of the Queen’s birthday with the Fleet, Farnham & Farnborough group of the Clandestine Cake Club, which Vicky runs, here.

You can also follow Vicky (although I feel I should call her Victoria – rather more regal!) on Twitter @vixyvonshock.

Happy World Gin Day!

I’ve decided to have a little break from the frugal here at Kitty’s Storecupboard and celebrate all things Gin in honour of World Gin Day. I know that there is now a ‘day’ for everything  (yesterday was Iced Tea Day apparently), but I am particularly fond of Gin and reckon that this one is worth celebrating.

Another reason to mark this day on the blog (other than ‘I like Gin’) is that Gin is a wonderful and varied ingredient. Recently my friend Sarah and I made a rather fabulous Gin and Tonic Tart at her home which is a few miles from the Bombay Sapphire distillery – a perfect excuse for a blog post! Then, not long afterwards, another friend who is a fantastic baker put a picture of a Gin cake on Facebook and I decided that World Gin Day was not enough – the idea of ‘Kitty’s Storecupboard Gin Week‘ was born!

So, what you have to look forward to in the coming week is:

  •  Sarah’s Gin and Tonic tart – Sarah’s day job is making wine (alright for some!) and has a lot to say about flavour;
  • Vicky’s Gin and Dubonnet Sponge Cake – Vicky is an old school friend who is part of the Clandestine Cake Club and is looking forward to starting her own baking blog soon; and
  • (a different) Sarah’s lesson on distilling (and I assume tasting) Gin in Edinburgh
    Sarah has a blog promoting all things women in STEM and will, I’m sure, have something interesting to say about the technical side of distilling, with a bit of Gin tasting and feminism on the side!

So, with all that excitement to look forward to I am going to go and make myself the Allcock family cocktail, ‘Grandad’s Special‘.  I’m not entirely sure that I have permission to share the recipe though – maybe if you’re good I’ll finish off ‘Kitty’s Storecupboard Gin Week‘ with it!

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My little Gin collection 🙂

Cranberry Gin!

Cranberry gin! This is a great little invention of mine which I have wanted to share with you for a while. It takes inspiration from my mother’s Sloe Gin recipe and my sister’s Quince ‘Brandy’. I first made it a couple of years ago as an ‘experiment’; it was delicious but rather too sweet for me because I used the same proportions as for Sloe Gin, and cranberries are not nearly so bitter. This year I am making a few slightly different versions to try and ascertain what the optimum amount of sugar is – I’m afraid you will have to wait a good few months for the verdict though!

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My original Cranberry Gin recipe, and appreciation of the final glass of the first vintage.

Method

First freeze the cranberries – this bursts the skin so that you don’t have to prick them with a fork.

Allow the cranberries to defrost in the fridge and then put them into an empty 1 litre glass bottle along with the cloves – I’m afraid that there is no substitute for dropping them into the bottle one at a time.

Using a funnel, add the sugar and then top up with gin. When there is still a little space in the top, put the lid back on and tip the bottle up and down a few times to mix it. Top up with a little more gin; you want it to be very nearly full, but with enough air at the top that you can tip it up and mix it periodically.

Don’t forget to label the bottle with the proportions that you used!
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For the first few weeks you will have to tip the bottle every day or two to help the sugar to dissolve. After that, you can put the bottle at the back of a cupboard and ignore it for a good few months.The longer you leave it the better – upwards of six months is best. I tend to make it early in the year – January to March – and then it is ready for next Christmas!

When you just can’t wait a moment longer, decant into pretty bottles using a funnel and coffee filter papers.

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