Sloes. That small purple fruit that looks like a cross between a damson and a blueberry, but has a taste that will pucker your face and remove the enamel from your teeth. Sounds delicious, right? Well actually, yes. Add them to gin with a heap of sugar and wait a few months, and you’ll have a lovely deep purple liquor that will keep you warm on a cold Christmas evening.
The sloe is the fruit of the autumn fruiting blackthorn tree, which is a common sight in the UK. Traditionally the fruit is picked after the first frost when the freezing weather has split the skins allowing the juice to flow out. If you want to have your sloe gin ready for the Christmas period then you might need to pick your sloes before the first frost and then stick them in the freezer overnight to mimic a cold snap.
If you haven’t knowingly seen a blackthorn tree before then you might be surprised at how common they are. When we first started hunting for these trees we travelled to distant woodlands thinking this would increase our chances of finding them. As soon as we learned what these trees looked like, we were shocked at just how often we spotted them out and about. Angi’s parents have dozens of blackthorns down the lane near their house, used a a hedgerow by a footpath. I even found that there was one growing right next to the path on the way to work, a path that I’ve walked on twice a day for the last 18 months! Blackthorn trees are easy to spot once you learn what to look for, and if you’re not sure what look out for, this website should help. https://treegrowing.tcv.org.uk/identify/blackthorn
Sloe gin takes about three months to make, but a common opinion is that you should wait a further year before drinking your hard work, to give it time to mature and for the flavours to improve. As this was our first time making the sloe gin, we obviously didn’t want to wait a year to drink it! We decided to make enough for two batches, so we could drink one this winter and leave the other to improve before next Christmas. Then next autumn we could make a new batch which would mature for the following year, essentially meaning that we’d then be making the next years sloe gin each autumn.
So what do you need? Well, compared to other drinks I’ve made this year like blackberry wine and cider, sloe gin requires very few ingredients. All you need some gin, some sugar, and unsurprisingly, some sloes. We used Aldi’s own gin as it gets very good reviews and is one of the cheapest gins around. The general rule of thumb is 2:1 gin to sloes and 2:1 sloes to sugar. We used 3 litres of gin, 1.5kg of sloes, and 750g sugar, which conveniently filled up a gallon demijohn almost exactly.
Thankfully you don’t need a lot of equipment to make sloe gin. At a minimum you need a clip top jar or demijohn with a bung, some scales, a load of bottles and a muslin bag. If you’re using a demijohn then a funnel will make your life easier. Using a cocktail stick or similar, pierce a couple of holes into each sloe and then pop them in the sterilised jar. Add the sugar and gin, and then close the lid tightly. Give it all a good shake, and then put it somewhere cool and dark. You need to shake the mixture daily for the first week, and then once a week thereafter until you get to the three month mark.
After three months, open the jar and pour the mixture into a sterilised bowl or bucket, making sure to use the muslin bag to catch all the bits. You can now pour the sloe gin into the sterilised bottles, and enjoy a small glass to celebrate. Don’t go throwing the gin infused slows away. You can use these to make a few jars of festive sloe gin jam! We haven’t figured out how to do this yet, so if you have a recipe then please let me know!
In total this year we made about 7 litres of sloe gin, by using 3 kilograms of sloes, 1.5kg of sugar, and 6 litres of gin. We’re keeping half back for next year, and will send some off to friends as gifts, so we’ve got a few bottles left to take us through the Christmas period. It tastes so good that I’m just finishing off the first bottle as I type this!