Making sloe gin
There’s an abundance of different wild fruits available from the hedgerow during the autumn - hips, haws, rowan berries, sweet chestnuts, crab apples, damsons, to name just a few. Whilst most autumn foraging treats like these are easy to use in a variety of jams, jellies and preserves, sloe is one fruit that doesn’t really lend itself to many recipes. All is not lost, however, as that great British tradition - sloe gin - will make use of your sloes and prove a tempting winter treat once it’s ready to drink.
Sloes and their close cousins, bullaces, are the fruits of the blackthorn bush. Whilst blackthorn isn’t often found in domestic gardens, if you head out for a fresh autumn walk in the countryside, you’re sure to find some blackthorn bushes along your way. Be careful when you’re gathering your sloes as the blackthorn bush has incredibly sharp spines which can make harvesting the sloes a little on the challenging side.
Tradition has it that sloes should not be picked until after the first frost. The cold of the frost is supposed to split the skins of the sloes, making it easier for the juices to mix with the gin and saving you the trouble of pricking each sloe with a fork. Since we’ve had a particularly cold snap already across much of the UK, the chances are for most of us that first frost has already arrived. If not, you can always harvest your sloes and pop them in the freezer overnight to simulate a hard frost, before making your gin.
Sloes are very distinctive, but if you’ve never picked them before or you’re in any doubt about identifying them, always take a more experienced person with you when foraging. Take just what you need, ensuring that you leave plenty for wildlife to enjoy.
Get those glass bottles ready
Before we move on to our sloe gin recipe, it’s worth talking about the glass bottles you’ll need and how to sterilise them. Clip-top bottles are perfect for sloe gin and they really look the part. If you’re planning to give some of your sloe gin away as a gift to friends and family, take a look at our 500ml sloe gin flask, or the 210ml swing stopper glass bottles with handles. These are both ideal as presentation bottles, turning a simple gift into something truly special.
To sterilise your bottles, first wash and rinse them thoroughly. Whilst normally, with jam jars and ordinary glass bottles, you can sterilise them by placing them in a warm oven for 30 minutes, this approach isn’t suitable for clip-top bottles because of the rubber seals. Instead, you can either briefly dunk the bottles in boiling water, or put them in a bucket of water that also contains a sterilising tablet or liquid. Allow to dry thoroughly before using.
Sloe gin recipe
1 litre bottle of gin
500 gms sloes
250gms caster sugar
- Wash the sloes and remove any bad fruit, twigs, leaves or other debris.
- If you have not had a frost, either prick each sloe with a fork, or put them in a bag and freeze them overnight.
- Divide the sloes between two large glass bottles and add half the sugar to each bottle.
- Add the gin to fill each bottle, then seal the bottles and shake well to mix everything up.
- Place the bottles in a dark, dry place. For the first week, every other day, shake the jars to mix everything up again.
- After the first week, check the bottles weekly and shake again.
That’s all there is to it - your sloe gin should be ready to drink after about two months. At that point, the liquid should a deep red colour and all of the sugar will have dissolved. Pour the gin into a jug, using a sieve to remove the remaining fruit pieces, then pour the decanted gin back into the bottle and re-seal.
Once you’ve extracted the sloes from your finished gin, you can coat them in chocolate to make your own deluxe liqueur chocolates. Rich and decadent, these are perfect for an after-dinner treat with friends. Serve them with coffee after Christmas dinner, for example.
You can drink sloe gin neat with a little ice, or you can even pour a little on ice cream for a really indulgent treat.
One of the joys of sloe gin is that two months after you make it usually coincides with Christmas, and it’s a great seasonal treat to enjoy by the fireside over the festive period. If you can manage to keep it for longer without drinking it, it gets better with age!
Are you making sloe gin this season - or any other infused drinks? If so, why hot share your recipes and successes with us, via our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts? We love hearing from our customers and friends and we’d be thrilled if you shared photos of your sloe gin with us.