Sloe gin is the perfect tipple for warming up cold days, which is why it is such a favourite Christmas drink.
As with most liqueurs, it is made by simply infusing the sloe berries in neat gin (or vodka if you prefer) with a little added sugar.
The sloe is the fruit of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).
The fruit, ripens in
late autumn, and is best harvested after the first frosts.
500gm ripe Sloes
150gm of white or candy sugar, you can always add more later to suit your tastes.
One 75cl bottle of medium quality/price gin or vodka
Optional; some recipes suggest adding a couple of drops of almond essence, few cloves, or even a small stick of cinnamon, personally I think these are unnecessary.
The quantities given above are just an approximate guide.
Pick your sloes on a warm sunny day, if possible.
Give them a rinse, remove any leaves or twigs but try not to wash the waxy bloom off the fruit.
Pack the fruit into a glass jar or bottle add the sugar and top up with gin so that all the fruit is well covered.
Seal the jar tightly and then give it a good shake to mix the sugar.
Store in a cool, dark place.
But remember to give it a shake every day for the first week.
Then give it a shake once a week for the next few months.
Once your gin has become a deep ruby, burgundy red decant the clear liqueur into a clean glass container, or several small ones.
But don’t discard berries, more on that below.
As for timing, my own view is that the fruit should not be left in the gin for more than six months, after that it doesn’t seem to add anything to the liqueur and could even begin to spoil the liqueur.
If you are in the northern hemisphere and picking the sloes in late October or early November your sloe gin isn’t really going to be ready for the following Christmas but if you keep some for the Christmas after it will be superb.
It just so happens that my birthday is at the end of April, which means that my sloe gin, made in November is just right for decanting and sampling.
But of course I do try to make enough so there is some left for the following Christmas.
Some recipes and some of the commercially produced sloe gins have added almond essence.
However, if the fruit is steeped in the gin for long enough the alcohol will extracts that almond like flavour naturally from the sloe stones.
There a quite a few traditions and, dare I say it, old wives' tales about picking and preparing the fruit.
As long as the fruit is fully ripe they can in my opinion be ignored.
However, if you are superstitious, don’t pick the sloes until after the first frost.
Prick the skin of each berry but not with metal implement, unless it is made of silver, preferably with a thorn taken from the same bush you picked the sloes from.
Some folk suggest freezing the sloes if you can’t wait for a frost but I'm not sure that the fairies approve of that method.
Better to pick them when they have ripened naturally and allow plenty of time for them to infuse naturally.
Something you never get with a bought liqueur is the ‘leftover’ fruit.
You pay all that money and don’t get what some regard as the best part.
Just try them dipped in melted chocolate for a liqueur chocolate to die for.
Or try adding a few to a game stew, or cook them with a little more sugar and serve as an alternative to Cranberry Sauce.
Maker them into jam or use them as a basis for a chutney.
Infuse them for a while in white wine, cider or a medium sherry….
Or just try a few added to any sweet, pie or crumble or just with ice-cream.
You can use your sloe gin in many recipes but why waste that when you’ve got that marinated fruit.
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"The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind."(H.L. Mencken, Prejudices, Fourth Series)