In the autumn of 2011, many Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent gathering sloes in a quest to make the best Sloe Gin ever to be tasted. No less than 15 trials were then started, each using different amounts of each key ingredient.
It was on Boxing Day 2011 that Patrick and Sarah, together with Patrick’s father and step-mother, Malcolm and Shirley, settled down to sample each of the 15 different trials to identify the best recipe. They look back on that afternoon with happy but somewhat hazy memories. As the afternoon wore on and the trials were each consumed opinions became louder and almost certainly less valid. Needless to say further trials were needed and a more structured approach to the taste testing was organised.
It was in the autumn of 2012 that the whole family attended their first event with an opening stock of around 300 bottles of Sloe Gin and 300 boxes of Sloe Gin Truffles. By the end of the afternoon they had received numerous compliments and sold several bottles and truffles. One of their very first customers on that day, Mr C, has become a good friend of the family business and remains a regular customer.
The family were delighted by initial reactions and began to dream of the day they would approach farm shops and delis to persuade them to stock Black Shuck Sloe Gin on their shelves. Their dream quickly became a reality and it wasn’t long before Black Shuck products became a firm favourite at Thorham Deli with locals and visitors alike.
Over the next two years Patrick and Sarah worked tirelessly on new ideas and four more fruit liqueurs were added to the Black Shuck range. During 2013, they once again enlisted the help of family and friends as they began work on a recipe for Black Shuck Gin. The taste test panels have grown significantly in size and organisation since the first taste testing in 2011.
The family have always taken inspiration from the stunning North Norfolk Coast and the recipe for the Gin was no exception. It took more than two years of recipe development before Patrick and Sarah were completely happy with the results. Those who have tried Black Shuck Gin agree it was time well spent.
Two of the botanicals used in the distillation of Black Shuck Gin are Norfolk’s very own Lavender and Sea Buckthorn.
Sea Buckthorn is a hardy tree like shrub, which grows naturally in sandy soil. It’s stunning orange berries are renowned for their many health benefits. According to Greek legend, soldiers set their war torn horses free in the sea buckthorn forests to die a natural death. They were amazed when their horses returned some time later, full of strength, with radiant shiny coats and with their health restored. Hence, the Sea Buckthorn was named Hippophae Rhamnoides “tree that makes horses shine”.
Patrick and Sarah have worked long hours, often seven days a week, to build their business and this summer Sarah gives up her job as a teacher of mathematics to devote more time to the production of Gin. Sarah said “I am very fortunate to be leaving one job I am passionate about to do another job I absolutely love.”
The couple have received several offers of financial support and advice often from complete strangers. In 2015 they even received a phone call from the BBC’s Dragons Den inviting them to apply to appear on the show. Whilst they have been very flattered by all of the offers, the family remain glad that they have retained complete control.
Patrick said “Running a small family business is both rewarding and challenging and we respect all who choose to walk that path. There isn’t a week that goes by without at least one hurdle to overcome, but that’s all part of the reward.”
For a fabulous Black Shuck’s gin-based cocktail, pick up a copy of the Thornham Deli Summer Times and turn to page 7.