At Christmas time, when we were young, my parents would buy in drinks for visiting family and friends – 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 maybe it was partly her own father was sometimes a little too fond of it. He was extravagant with his money and maybe spent more than he should in pubs 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 a liqueur such as Cointreau or Benedictine, Tia Maria or Drambuie, which would have been given to them 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 really came out at Christmas.
There was one exception to this Christmas only alcohol, and this was home-made sloe gin. There was nearly always a bottle of home-made sloe-gin in the cupboard – but only one, as of course, though sloes were free to be gathered at the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, gin cost money!
My grandparents had the Portland Arms in Cambridge, and granddad would make his own liqueurs. In the cellar, on a rack, he would have small barrels of rum, gin and whisky, in which he steeped lemons and oranges. I have a feeling he also used cloves, however I maybe wrong on that. When ready, the flavoured spirits would be decanted and go behind or maybe beneath the bar, for friends and privileged customers. As one bottle was finished, probably over many months, it would be replaced. Each year, in the cellar, 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 lemon gin. I tried to make it once, 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 of piercing them with a needle; maybe I should have only used 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, mildly pleasant, but I’d never bother to make any myself.
I have tried drinking gin in different ways, but the vile smell of it as the drink nears my mouth puts me off. I have been known to drink pink gin – just gin in a glass which has been swirled with Angostura Bitters, and that was tolerable. I did have an embarrassing, and on reflection rather disgusting episode when visiting a friend’s parents for the first time, and they gave me gin and sherry – yes, sherry with gin in it. Needless to say I was not well afterwards and fortunately the exact details of the incident are mercifully blurred.
I won’t be sampling gin again; there’s no point, I really don’t like it.
And anyway, whisky is much nicer.