Congratulations to George Shaw for taking top prize in this year’s Sloe Gin World Gin Championships, with a velvety smooth winning entry that the five judges found most appealing. My entry, made with sloes picked October 2016 and decanted only a week in advance of the competition, was scored in around tenth place from over thirty entries in the artisan category. In the keenly contested professional class London-made Mothers’ Ruin took to the top spot holding off entries from around the world.
The annual competition is held at The George Inn, a gorgeous village pub in Frant, East Sussex. It would be hard to find a more English-village pub than the George, all beams, log fires and locally brewed real ales. While next year the competition will be celebrating its tenth anniversary, this year’s championships attracted 36 entries from as far afield as Canada, Germany and Scotland, raising over £2,000 for charity. Over 200 people attended, most making a small donation to sample the gins and raising funds for the MS Society.
Last year’s runner-up in the professional class, London-based Mother’s Ruin, scooped this year’s top prize, with west Kent-based Anno Distillery of Marden, picking up a silver medal.
Championship judge, well-know food writer and local food advocate Henrietta Green was particularly impressed with the range of colours from delicate pinks to dark reds. “ I was particularly struck by the colours and quality of the amateur entries,” she said. “They were well filtered, clear with distinctive flavours.”
Henrietta was looking for drinks that “were not too heavy on the sugar, had a good length of flavour and a hint of almond flavour, perhaps slightly bitter”.
Artisan winner George attributes his success to the “use of demerara sugar, cinnamon, almonds and dried apple, all measured in traditional Imperial, rather than metric, units”.
My own entry, referred to as ‘Number 14’, scored high on colour on clarity (I used a coffee filter to decant) and quite well on character but the judges felt it could have been sweeter … a lesson learnt for next year!
The judges, who awarded marks for character, sweetness and clarity were Henrietta Green, the award-winning food writer, journalist and broadcaster; Michael Voigt, General Manager of L’Oscar Hotel, a 5* boutique hotel opening in London in April; Alan Beauseigneur, a Master Mixologist from the luxury tea and fine food purveyor, The East India Company, and Simon Brewster from wine merchants Fine & Rare.
Proceeds were donated to the MS Society that supports people with Multiple Sclerosis – mssociety.org.uk. One of the Sloe Gin World Championships founder, ‘Merlot’ Mike Mattews, who died suddenly in September this year, had suffered from MS. The ‘Merlot’ Mike Matthews Memorial Trophy will be now presented each year to the winner of the artisan category.
For a preview of the championships, read this, page 48.
THE LEMON GROVE ‘SLOE GIN’ RECIPE
Makes 1 litre/1¾ pint
450g/1lb Sloes (gathered in September/ October)
225g/8oz Caster Sugar
1 litre/1¾ pint Gin. The better the gin, the better the sloe gin.
* Gather sloes, dark purple fruits of the Blackthorn tree.
* Wash and pierce the sloe all over with a clean needle and place in a large sterilised jar.
* Add sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.
* Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake every other day for a week. Once sugar has dissolved, gently shake once a week.
* After around hree months, strain the liquid through muslin or coffee filter paper into a sterilised bottle.
* Can be enjoyed immediately; neat, in cocktails or with tonic water.
Experts at commercial drinks makers Sipsmiths say: “One of the common complaints about the standard sloe recipes is that some years they produce a too-sweet liqueur, while other years are not sweet enough. Sweetening to taste at the end of the maceration yields a perfect batch every time. If you use simple syrup instead of granulated sugar, you don’t have to wait for the crystals to dissolve”
Vodka can be used in place of gin, and is ready sooner. You can add a few black peppercorns for extra spice or a vanilla pod, for a more mellow finish.
Other soft fruits such as raspberries and blackberries also make great flavoured gins, and are often softer and lighter in taste.