I have never tasted Sloe Gin, but everyone I know who has, cannot stop spouting about how ‘wonderful’ it is. This year we are lucky enough to have a bumper crop of sloe berries. So I decided I would have a go at making some, with the intention of giving much of it away as Christmas gifts to my liqueur loving friends and family.Sloe berries are like miniature damsons, round purple/blue berries about the size and shape of a small olive. The branches of the wild blackthorn bushes have long spiky thorns, so you need to take care when picking them. Remember never pick and eat anything that you are not 100 percent sure that you can identify – use a good field guide for this. Sloes, it is said, have magical properties, is one of the first shrubs to flower, so folklore associates it with bravery. It is also believed to have medicinal properties and is used as an appetite stimulant, for stomach disorders and to ease inflammation of the mouth and throat.
The berries are ripe when you can pop them easily between your finger and thumb. Some books recommend that you pick them only after the first frost as they will release their flavour better. However, if you wait too long you may be beaten to them by various hungry critters, or other less patient (or more savvy) foragers. I decided to pick them as soon as they passed the pop test and then put them in the freezer overnight to simulate an early frost. This splits the skins of the berries, allowing them to release their natural sweetness (forager hack).
Apparently, two months is the minimum amount of time the liqueur needs to mature, so this way it will be ready just in time for Christmas…
Pick enough to half-fill the bottle of your choice, but if you have loads it’s a really good idea to make a batch of them or use a demijohn, which is what I did. I doubled the recipe ingredients as I had harvested such a bumper crop. The longer you leave your gin, the better, so anything you don’t drink will improve year on year.
Basic Sloe Gin Recipe
500g ripe sloes
250g golden caster sugar
1-litre bottle gin
- Rinse the sloes, then pat dry in a clean tea towel.
- Place the sloe berries on a tray in the freezer overnight.
- Tip into a 2-litre Kilner jar, or divide between 2 smaller jars or bottles.
- Add the sugar and gin, and seal the top. Shake well.
- Each day for a week, give the jar a good shake, then put it in a cool, dark place and leave for 2-3 months shaking periodically.
- When you are ready to bottle your creation, use a jelly strainer or muslin, set it over a bowl, and strain the sloe gin through it.
- Finally, decant into sterilised, dry bottles, seal and label.
- The sloe gin is now ready to drink and it will only improve over time, so you may want to put a bottle aside each year to mature for the following Christmas.
- Oh and don’t waste the gin soaked sloes, apparently they go extremely well with ice cream!
- Sloe gin makes a wonderful aperitif at Christmas or whenever you feel like a little bit of luxury.