This is probably my favourite liqueur of all. If you’ve ever tried sloe gin from a pub or shop bought, it’s nothing like that. It’s a totally different drink.
Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn tree (well, technically I believe it’s a shrub but it looks damn like a tree to me) and can be found all over the place: scrubland, on the edges of fields, woods. That said, you may need to look quite hard to find them because you’ve probably walked past them a million times and not noticed them. More information on the Blackthorn and the Sloe can be found on Wikipedia.
Sloes are ready to pick in the late autumn, supposedly they’re better to pick after the first frost – this is because that splits the skin and helps the flavour come out in a process called bletting – but if you wait that long, they may have been eaten by the birds, picked by someone else or just rotted away. My advice is to collect them as soon as they’re ready and pop them in the freezer overnight or longer if you wish.
600ml gin – you can use the cheapest, roughest, nastiest stuff you can find in my experience
Makes about 1 liter of sloe gin.
In a large jar, pop in the sloes, add the sugar and then pour in the gin. Give it all a bit of a shake then leave in a cool, dark place. Check on it each day for around a week, or until the sugar has dissolved and give it a good shake to stop the sugar settling. After that, put it back in the cool, dark place and leave it for around 8-10 weeks. Give it a taste every so often, near the end of this time. It’s ready when it’s really smooth, you’ll know when that it is. The first couple of times you make it, I’d recommend tasting it after only a day or so, you’ll taste the bitterness of the sloes and when that’s gone, it’s ready.
Once you’re happy with it, run it through a sieve to remove any stray bits and bottle it. Normally, your first batch will be ready in time for Christmas or New Year – it makes great presents but once you’ve tasted it, you probably wont want to give it away!
Variations and tips
As I mentioned previously, I love the thick, smooth, almost medicinal quality of this recipe but if that’s not your cup of tea, simply experiment with less sugar. I’ve made batches with half the amount of sugar and it’s sharper and perhaps better suited to be mixed. As with all these things, experiment and do what suits you best.
So, what to do with all those sloes? Well, there’s loads of different suggestions out there. I’ve tried eating them but the sloe doesn’t have much flesh on compared to the size of the stone. De-stoning them is a pain. Perhaps you could get a puree from it if you ran them through a food mill but I’ve never been bothered. My suggestion is to re-use them. You’ll need a great big jar to do this as I’ve found that you need three times the amount of used sloes to make a batch of gin with them. The rest of the ingredients are the same. You ay also find that you need to seep them for a few weeks longer than normal.
When I re-use sloes, I normally use at least some new sloes as the used ones lose their colour quickly. The resulting gin tastes very good – not quite as good as the first time round though – but looks a bit pale. Throwing in a few fresh sloes will give it that gorgeous deep pink colour.
If you do want to eat the sloes though, I would suggest leaving them in the gin a couple of weeks longer than you would normally to remove the last bitterness from them.
One last thing, people say that sloe gin improves greatly with keeping. I’ve never managed to save any for more than a month or so, but last year I had a bumper collection of sloes and made enough to keep. If you can spare a bottle or two it may be worth keeping some back to age.