You could spend all day reading up on how to make sloe gin. And yes, there are many variations of the basic process that, to the trained palette, would make all the difference between an excellent and a really excellent winter tipple. But whatever method you follow, something pretty drastic would need to go wrong to fail at creating a wonderful infusion out of this simple berry, gin, sugar combo.
What are sloes?
During the autumn you will find the branches of the Blackthorn bush filling up the hedgerows and dripping with this small berry. They are similar to plums and damsons in their appearance but smaller and much more tart. Too astringent for eating with any sort of enjoyment but luckily for us, when steeped in a strong alcohol with a generous helping of sugar, they are a different story altogether.
When to pick sloes?
The berries ripen at some point during the autumn – when exactly is dependant on many things but a general rule is that if you can squeeze a berry with your fingers and it pops open, it’s ready. In an ideal world the time of ripening will also coincide with the first frost which splits the skins and allows them to release what natural sweetness they do have. However, if the stars fail to align, then you can always pop them in the freezer overnight to simulate the frost.
It’s worth wearing long sleeves and a pair of thick gloves when you’re harvesting the berry. The Blackthorn bush is so-called for a reason.
How long does it take to infuse the gin?
As with many things in life, sloe gin only gets better with age. Leaving the sloes to steep in the gin and sugar for six months, a year or even two years will make a lot of difference to the depth and quality of the liqueur. But if you can manage to resist popping the cork for at least two months then that should just about be long enough for the creation of an enjoyable winter tipple.
Sloe Gin Recipe
- Caster sugar
- A good quality gin
- Soak the sloes in warm water for 10 – 15 mins – this will draw out any maggots that might have set up house in the berries
- Half fill your bottle with sloes
- Add 2 tablespoons of caster sugar
- Fill up the rest of the bottle with gin
- Seal the bottle and shake for a minute or two
- Place the bottle on it’s side in a dark cupboard
- Turn the bottle 180 degrees every day
- After 2 months or longer, take a sip. If it needs more sweetness, make up a sugar syrup by warming equal parts sugar and water over a low heat. Add and shake.