A traditional British warming winter tipple, damson gin is a lovely taste of the countryside, sipped slowly by the fire or added to summer cocktails. Damson gin is very easy to make with this simple recipe. You just need a little patience, so relax and let it mellow.
Damson gin is a traditional digestif that has become more widely available to buy in recent years. It’s so easy to make, however, that I’m not tempted to buy it. Smooth, fruity and comforting, it’s just the drink for curling up on the sofa with a book on a winter’s night.
I love making the most of the hedgerow. Who doesn’t love a free harvest? Nothing beats knowing that your delicious creation is local, organic and making the most of nature’s bounty.
This damson gin recipe needs just three ingredients plus a little patience. I really enjoy knowing that my damson gin is gently maturing in the back of the cabinet while I get on with other things.
Leaving the fruit to infuse for a good long time is well worth it, so don’t be in too much of a hurry. Leave it for up to a year before decanting, and then let it mature for a few weeks more before you serve it to your favourite people.
How to identify damsons
You can use either orchard fruit or wild damsons for your damson gin, and it won’t make a big difference.
Wild damsons, or bullaces, are smaller and rounder than cultivated versions. Damsons are generally rather tart but the wild forms are less sweet than than cultivars.
Bullaces are sometimes confused with sloes, which have a similar colour and bloom, but are smaller. If in doubt, look out for thorns on the branches. If the tree has thorns, you are picking sloes and not damsons.
As with all foraged fruit, try to pick from a tree that isn’t too close to a main road and from branches high enough to be out of the way of passing dogs and other animals. When picking them, make sure you have permission from the landowner.
If you are lucky enough to have access to a cultivated damson tree, of course, you don’t need to worry about all that.
Cherish your tree and consider planting a successor tree for the future, as so many of our orchard fruit varieties are under threat now!
When to pick damsons
Damsons are ready to harvest from August through October. If you are picking them to cook, wait until they start to soften slightly. For this damson gin recipe, however, you can harvest them firm.
When foraging for damsons I like to pick a few at a time when the are ripe – pop them into a plastic bag in the freezer until you have enough for your gin!
Damson gin ingredients
- Damsons – Fresh or frozen
- Gin – I use a London dry gin. You don’t want the expensive gins with complicated herbal additions. At best, it’s a waste and at worst the flavours might clash.
- Sugar – Again, nothing fancy. Just granulated white sugar
Do you need to prepare the damsons?
I’ve tested this with both damsons and sloes and it makes no difference!
Traditionally, sloes were pricked with a needle before making sloe gin, or frozen so that the skin splits. However, there is no difference in results if either of these steps are missed, and you simply add whole sloes.
The three jam jars shown above are made with, from left to right, untouched, pricked and frozen sloes. As the photo shows, there is no difference in results after one month’s infusion.
Just pick over the damsons and remove leaves, twigs and any mouldy or damaged fruit. If you can’t make gin straight away, there’s no harm in freezing the fruit. You needn’t wait until the fruit has defrosted before starting to make gin.
How to make damson gin
Before you start, read my step-by-step instructions, with photos, hints and tips so you can make this perfectly every time.
Scroll down for the recipe card with quantities and more tips at the bottom of the page.
First – Pick over the damsons, removing any leaves and twigs, and discarding any damaged fruit.
Step One – Put damsons in a large, sealable jar with plenty of space. Choose one with a wide neck, as you need to be able to get the fruit in (especially if you are using frozen fruit) and then get it out again when you have finished. Remember that it is harder to get the damsons out than in and choose your jar accordingly!
Add the sugar.
Step Two – Pour over the gin. Now give it a good swirl to mix. I find that a swirling motion is much safer than shaking, causing the liquid to move up and down. Not all seals cope with this, so be cautious!
Helen’s Fuss Free Tip
If you have used frozen damsons you will initially get lots of condensation on the container as they defrost. Stand on a tray or plate to catch the drips.
Keep your damson gin somewhere accessible. Give the bottle a swirl every day to dissolve the sugar.
Once all the sugar has dissolved you will have a lovely jewel coloured gin, with that lovely plum pink shade. The process is hands-off from this point and you can store your damson gin in a cool dark cupboard to infuse.
Step Three – Allow your damson gin to infuse for at least three months, by which point it should be a deep red colour. We usually leave it for up to a year.
Step Four – Decant the gin through a sieve, jelly bag or muslin cloth. Seal the liquid in a clean bottle.
You can enjoy it immediately, but we like to let it mature further for about six months. It keeps well for up to five years or so, but does lose some of the flavour over time. Drink and enjoy.
How to use your leftover damsons
This damson gin recipe comes with a lovely bonus – gin-soaked fruit! Don’t waste it. Put the damsons in a jar, cover with sherry and leave for a secondary infusion for 6 weeks. Or try one of these uses:
- Add to the fruit when making blackberry or apple jelly.
- Fill the cavity of a pheasant or goose when roasting.
- Tie into a muslin cloth and add to the pot when making mulled wine.
Hints, tips & variations
- Adjust the sugar to taste – remember that you can add more, but you can’t take it out.
- If you experiment with the quantities, write down what you used on a label and stick it to the bottle. It is just so frustrating to make the best batch ever and have no idea of the recipe you used.
- You can save the infused damsons for all sorts of things, but don’t be tempted to reuse them for another batch of gin. It doesn’t work and is a waste of gin, sugar and time!
- Experiment with a few spices. I usually do this in a small bottle when testing. A little goes a long way so only put a tiny amount in. Star anise, cardamom or cinnamon are popular additions.
- Don’t use expensive gins with complicated botanicals or added flavours for this damson gin recipe – instead, use a simple gin and allow the fruit to shine.
- If you are not a gin drinker, then of course vodka can be used.
- Three months will do, but steeping the fruit for six months to a year is better to maximize the flavour. Ideally, leave it for few months more after rebottling the finished gin.
- Damson gin can be mixed with prosecco for a Christmas treat or added to mulled apple juice or cider. It is also delicious in a long summer drink with tonic water or lemonade and lots of ice – if you have any left, that is.
Damsons generally ripen from August to October depending on the weather. Make you gin when you can get ripe damsons.
Sip it slowly from a liqueur glass as a digestif or make a sparkling cocktail with prosecco. Use it in a gin fizz or simply mix with lemonade or tonic water and ice for a cooling summer drink.
More winter cocktails and drinks
More homemade liqueurs and infusions
- Rhubarb and ginger gin – pretty pink and so so delicious.
- Sloe Gin – this British classic is so much better when homemade.
- Toffee Vodka – this popular flavoured vodka uses just two ingredients and is so easy to make at home.
- Christmas Gin – All the flavours of a Christmas pudding makes this infusion perfect for presents.
- Christmas Vodka – rich spiced vine fruits and ready in less than a week!
- Cranberry Gin – Jewel coloured cranberry and orange gin – perfect for Christmas sipping!
- Bramble Whisky – packed with blackberries and sloes, this is an ultimate winter warmer.
Easy Damson Gin
- 340 g damsons
- 200 g sugar
- 500 ml gin
- Pick over the damsons and put them in a clean jar.
- Add the sugar.
- Top up with the gin.
- Screw the lid down tight and give it a good shake.
- Keep the bottle in a cool, dark place that is easily accessible and swirl every day for the first week or so, until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Store in a cool dark place for at least 3 months (ideally at least months to a year) to infuse.
- Strain into a jug through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth or jelly bag. Transfer the damson gin to a clean bottle. The gin may be enjoyed straight away but is best left for another 6 months.
- This recipe is 2 Weight Watchers Smart Points