While out for a walk on Sunday, spotting several Blackthorn bushes laden with sloes reminded me of last years failed attempt to make some sloe gin. We left the picking far too late and by the time we finally headed out to pick some sloes those that the birds hadn’t eaten were all well past their best. Despite it only just being September many of the bushes near us (SE England) have lots of ripe sloes on so determined to avoid another missed opportunity we started picking straight away.
What is Sloe Gin?
If you’re keen to start dabbling in a bit of foraging or like the idea of making some home brew then sloe gin is a great introduction to both. Sloes are one of the most common hedgerow berries in the UK and are a distant relative of the plum. They are small blue/grey fruits that grow on the blackthorn bush which is common amongst hedgerows throughout much of England.
To make sloe gin you simply infuse regular gin with sloes, adding some sugar which helps extract the juice from the berries as well as sweeten the final drink. After allowing the juice to infuse with the gin and sugar for a few months you simply strain and end up with a ruby red gin with a great flavour.
How to Make Sloe Gin
Depending on the weather the best time for picking is September and October. The fruits are naturally hard and bitter so don’t expect to be feasting when picking sloes. When they’re ripe sloes should not be rock hard but have a little give.
In late summer/early autumn keep an eye out in the hedge rows and you should spot the purple/blue berries appearing. If you can try not to pick them too early as unripe sloes won’t produce too much flavour for your gin.
Once you’ve picked your sloes, the only other ingredients you need is some granulated sugar and some medium quality gin.
Sloe Gin Ingredients
- 800 grams of sloes
- 70cl of gin
- 200 grams of sugar
1. First of all wash your sloes and ensure you’ve removed all of the leaves, twigs and bugs. You don’t have to be too fussy as you’ll be filtering all of the impurities out after 12 weeks anyway.
2. Next you need to pierce the skin of the sloes to help them leach their juices into the gin. The slow method is to prick each one a couple of times with a fork or pin. The quick method is to freeze the sloes over night then take them out of the freezer for a couple of hours and as they defrost the skin bursts, saving you the hard work.
This freezing method has the added benefit that some people believe that you shouldn’t pick the sloes until just after the first frost – it is thought that this freezing activates the sugars in the sloes which in turn enhances the flavour of the final liqueur.
3. Next you need to sterilize your bottles/jars. The easiest way to do this is the pop them into an oven for 10 minutes at about 170 degrees. For the lids, which often have plastic/rubber seals or the rubber seals from kilner jars simply pop them into a pan of water and bring it to the boil.
4. Place the gin into your bottle/kilner jar then simple add the sloes to almost fill up the bottle. Next add in the sugar and seal tightly before giving it a good shake.There’s no need to worry about dissolving all of the sugar as this will happen over the next few days. Try to fill the bottle/jar as much as possible, the more air that is in there the greater the chance of bad bacteria spoiling the flavour of your final liqueur.
5. Store the bottle/jar in a cool dark place and for the first couple of weeks give it a little shake/turn every day to help dissolve the sugar and get the flavors mixing. After this first week or two turning the bottle once a week should suffice.
6. After three months it’s time to decant the gin, removing the solids so it can mature further and be stored for a long time (if required). I use a small kitchen funnel and tea strainer to help separate out the sloes from the gin. Once you’ve strained it you should end up with a clear dark red liquid.
7. Now i simply re-bottle the gin into freshly sterilized bottle and store. You can start drinking it straight away but it will keep for many years and it definitely improves with age.
While I’ve described the basic recipe above some people recommend putting a small amount of almond or vanilla essence. I’ve also heard cinnamon complements the flavour of the sloes well but i haven’t tried it yet, maybe i’ll try that next year.