At Christmas time when we were young my parents would buy drinks for family and friends who came visiting – and I mean alcoholic drinks. My mum was not very keen on alcohol, a medium sherry was about her limit. She didn’t disapprove, she just didn’t care for it – although her own father was sometimes a little extravagant with his money and maybe spent more than he should with friends, leaving the housekeeping somewhat short. I surmise this from things my aunties said, but who really knows, he died nearly sixty years ago. My Dad grew up in a pub so he was quite knowledgeable about drinks and drinking, and definitely about being a responsible consumer! At Christmas we would have a bottle of whisky, usually White Horse, a bottle of gin and a bottle of rum for the Christmas pudding! There would also be a bottle of sherry and maybe a bottle of liqueur would have been given as a gift. There was not the huge range and variety of different spirits that there are now, and it wouldn’t have been drunk regularly – in our house it only came out at Christmas and when people came round for a meal.
There was one exception to this – home-made sloe gin. There was nearly always a bottle of home-made sloe-gin – but only one, as of course, though sloes were free to be gathered at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, gin was not! My grandparents had a pub, and granddad would make his own liqueurs which were for friends and privileged customers only. In the cellar he would have a barrel of rum, a barrel of gin and a barrel of whisky (no doubt only small barrels) and they would be flavoured with different things – lemons, oranges, and I have a feeling he also used cloves, however I maybe wrong on that one! When ready, the flavoured spirits would go behind the bar, or maybe beneath the bar, and as one bottle was finished, probably over many months, it would be replaced. Each year, granddad would make a new batch of kegs, which would go at the end of the row, to be moved along the following year as another new one was stored.
I really don’t like gin at all but I was fascinated by the stories of granddad’s gin, especially the lemon one. Once I tried to make it but it was a nasty disaster. Maybe it was because I used cheap gin, maybe I should have done something different with the lemons rather than following the sloe gin method and just piercing them with a needle, maybe I should have used only the zest, or only the juice, but I was sure dad said it was whole lemons… but maybe it was whole lemons in slices, or maybe I should have used more sugar – but then it would have just been sweet and nasty. A friend once made marmalade gin – not marmalade with gin in, but gin with marmalade in – it was nice enough, but I’d never bother to make any myself. I won’t try making anything with gin again; I really don’t like gin, and anyway whisky is much nicer.