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Alright Amblers? The evenings are darkening and it’s growing ever colder, so it must be that time of year again. Although the C word seems to come earlier and earlier each year, much to some people’s dismay, it’s time to get into the spirit of things and talk Christmas. Specifically, Christmas presents. This year I intend to make all of my gifts, so I’ll be stepping out of the kitchen (partly) and taking you through a variety of things you can make at home as a special treat for your loved ones.

I’ll be kicking things off with an infused gin, which will take the longest amount of time to prep (up to 6 weeks infusion time). You can use the same process for any kind of alcohol and infuse it with any flavours you like. In previous years I’ve made cranberry gin, mango and passionfruit rum and toffee vodka. The infusion time varies depending on what you’re infusing the alcohol with. The toffee vodka for example only takes a matter of days. Anything with strong flavours (spices, etc.) can be ready in a couple of weeks, softer flavours (fruits or vegetables) take around 4-6 weeks and very delicate flavours (florals) can take 8 weeks or more.

Spiced Orange & Bay Gin

 This spiced orange gin is the perfect festive gift for any gin lover. Enjoy it with tonic, over ice or as part of a wintery gin cocktail. The bay and ginger perfectly compliment the flavour of the orange, while the star anise and cloves add a warming winter spice. It’s best to use fresh bay leaves, rather than the dried ones you get in a pack. I’m lucky enough to have a bay tree in my garden, which I can collect fresh leaves from for any dish, but they’re also available in most supermarkets along with other fresh herbs.

I choose not to peel my ginger, as the final product will be passed through a coffee filter to remove sediment, but you can if you wish to. As you’ll be adding things to the gin, you’ll need to allow room for displacement and also room for the liquid to move around when you shake it. Therefore it’s best to either split the mixture between two 1l bottles or add everything to a 1.5-2l mason jar. When infusing any alcohol, especially using fruit, the longer you leave it to infuse, the more flavourful it will be. My recommended infusion time for this gin is at least 4-6 weeks. After the first 4 weeks, give it a taste to see if you are happy with the flavour development. If not, leave it to infuse a little longer. Once it’s ready to be strained and bottled, prepare your gift bottles by removing any plastic lids, washing with hot soapy water and drying in an oven at 160°C for 15 minutes. Plastic lids can be boiled and left to air dry. I like to decorate mine with a bay leaf and a strip of orange zest in each.

Ingredients

1 litre London Dry Gin

3 oranges

60g fresh ginger

4 fresh bay leaves

2 star anise

6-8 cloves

4 tbsp caster sugar

Method

  • Pour all of the gin into a large mason jar (1.5l minimum), or split between 2 empty 1l bottles with tight sealing lids.
  • Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips of zest from the oranges and add to the gin.
  • Peel the remaining skin from the oranges, removing as much of the pith (the white membrane beneath the peel) as possible. Segment and add to the gin.
  • Thinly slice the ginger and bash with a rolling pin to release the juices.
  • Bruise the bay leaves by rolling in your hands and add to the gin with the star anise and cloves.
  • Add in the caster sugar, seal the jar and give it a good shake. Store in a cool place out of direct sunlight for 4-6 weeks, shaking every few days.
  • Once your gin is infused, pass through a sieve to remove fruit and spices, then pass through a muslin, cheese cloth or coffee filter to remove sediment. Rebottle in sterilized sealable bottles and keep for up to a year.

Like the idea but run out of time? There are plenty of great independents in Chester where you can pick up a bottle of something a little different to give as a gift, be that gin, whiskey or liqueurs. Whatever takes your fancy, I would recommend the pop-up Whitmore and White (back in its old location on Godstall Lane) or Chester Beer and Wine in Handbridge.