Its one of those cold, wet, miserable days that the UK seems to produce in abundance around Christmas time. You’ve just rushed inside after your obligatory 4 mile walk with your toddler to ensure he doesn’t
use up his excess energy trashing your house watch too much TV. Freezing cold, and with your soaking shoes and jacket ruining the carpet just inside your front door (Nope, no luxury mudroom here), there is nothing better to warm you up than a roasting fire and a decent glass of something to warm the cockles. My tipple of choice is sloe gin. Although you can buy it, its cheap to make, and tastes way better than the commercial stuff. Using only three ingredients, this will be the easiest, and most rewarding thing you make all year.
Roughly 750g Sloes
Roughly 400g sugar
The most important ingredient is the sloes. They’re the fruit of the Blackthorn tree (Its more of a large bush than a tree to be honest) and right now is not a bad time to find them. There are loads of in the country park where I live, which makes it very easy for me to find them. The best way to find a Blackthorn tree is to look for them in spring, when they are covered in white blossom, usually in hedgerows. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, ask. Sloes are roughly the size of small grapes, purple and tend to have a pale purple bloom on them. Don’t go eating any straight off the tree, they taste revolting.
The traditional time of year to pick them is after the first frosts, usually mid September. This year, I’ve left mine till now (early October) because, first, we haven’t had any frost yet, and secondly, they are perfectly squidgy and ripe. Pick them too early and they won’t be ripe. The reason one waits for the first frost, is because freezing these little gems breaks all the plant cells inside the fruits, allowing maximum infusion with your gin. As we haven’t had ANY frost yet here, I’ll be sticking mine in the freezer to get the same effect.
The second thing you’re supposed to do with your sloes is to prick them individually with a non metal pin (toothpick anyone?). I’m sure a metal pin or fork is fine. Two years ago I made 3 litres of the stuff, and I couldn’t face the mind numbing chore of individually pricking 3 kilo’s (roughly 6lbs) of the little bastards. The whole point of pricking the skins is the let the lovely sloe yumminess actually get out of the sloe and into your gin. My solution is to just lay them in a single layer in a baking tray (frozen) and beat the living daylights out of them with the bottom of a wine bottle. The skins split, which is the whole point. You can always decant off the little bits later. In fact you need to, to prevent the whole lot turning bitter.
Once your sloes are all prepped, chuck them into your bottle of choice till the bottle is between a quarter and a half full. Add sugar, shaking it down until it is level with the top of the sloes. Top up the whole lot with lots of gin. You can do like I did two years ago and use rather expensive export quality, or you can use the cheap and nasty stuff, which is what I’m doing this year. You don’t have to use caster sugar, ordinary white, granulated sugar is also just fine.
Seal and shake your bottle. Store in a dark cupboard. Shake a few times in the first 24 hours, then once daily for a week, once weekly for a month and once monthly till sometime between Christmas and early March. Decant off the used up sloes and store your lovely gin in a nice bottle. Don’t leave the gin on the sloes for more than 3-5 months, otherwise it can turn very bitter. It will be ready to drink by Christmas, but I prefer to leave mine for a year or so. It will turn an amazing pinky red during this process. Decanted and left to mature, it turns a more tawny red and mellows beautifully.
MAKE some, you’ll need it for my Sloe Gin Venison Pie, coming to a blog near you soon! Although I like it neat, I believe it makes a brilliant fizz cocktail when combined with some bubbly. Chin chin!