If you've not yet tasted homemade sloe gin then you're in for a treat. Like all homemade products that make the best of Britain's larder, you'll get to have fun foraging before making your own easy recipes for a delicious drink that will last you all through winter... perhaps. Get ready to enjoy the sight of glistening ruby red glass bottles lined up in your kitchen, labelled and ready for enjoyment - and perhaps Christmas gifting?
What exactly is sloe gin?
Sloe gin is an infused alcoholic drink, where sloe berries are harvested from the blackthorn tree and infused in gin so that their delicious flavour and wonderful rich colour infused into the clear liquor. Now is the time to start spotting sloes around the countryside. The berries look a little like large blueberries and they have a lovely blue-purple colour and firm skins. Just watch out for the thorns on the buckthorn and remember to use gloves!
Are sloes easy to find?
Sloes are only produced in perfect conditions that relate to the preceding spring and summer. If it's been too dry, then the berries tend to be dry and shrivelled too. If it's been too hot, there may be no berries at all. Some years are absolute bumpers for sloes and we have already spotted ripening bushes in the hedgerows - with the sloes becoming ripest after the first frost. The good news is that you don't have to wait. You can simply pick and freeze before use! You'll know that they are starting to ripen on the hedge when you can squash them in your fingers, and when they are a dark purple colour. The flavour will be the richest and the sweetest once they are fully ripe.
Where to find sloe berries
Traditionally, sloes are found in hedgerows but you can find them in woodland too. You can use The Woodland Trust website to get leads on local sloe spots! [https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2020/09/sloe-gin-recipe/
|When To Pick Sloes and Sloe Gin Recipe - Woodland Trust|
Autumn is the time to collect sloes and make sloe gin. It's the perfect winter tipple and easy to make with our step-by-step recipe and top picking tips.
What equipment will you need to make sloe gin?
It's remarkably easy, so this is a really fun foraging project to enjoy. You'll need a bottle of gin - say a litre, for 450 grams of sloes, 225g of caster sugar (or around half the volume of the sloes - feel free to experiment a little as you become more experienced) and sterilised glass bottles. We're a big fan of pretty glass bottles with corks at Wares of Knutsford. The corks work perfectly to keep the drink airtight and they also look lovely. Ideal for those all-important Christmas gifts!
To make the gin, you simply add the berries to the alcohol along with the sugar, ensuring that the berries are covered. Place the mix in a cool and dark place and keep an eye on it. Checking weekly to see if the flavour is developing as you like and giving it a shake. Add more sugar if you need to, and always buy a good quality gin, as even the best berries won't mask a good one! When it's ready and to your taste, from about four weeks onwards, simply bottle it in beautiful glass bottles with corks, add your labels and feel proud with your handiwork!
Twists to try
Don't like gin? Simply sub it out for vodka! You can also experiment by adding other kinds of herbs, fruits or spices according to your taste. There are no hard and fast rules here. Vanilla, damsons, cinnamon and almonds all work well with these berries.
How to enjoy your sloe gin
When you can't resist the deep and rich liqueur winking at you from those glass bottles in the kitchen, treat yourself to a delicious drink. Sloe gin tastes great neat, simply poured over ice in a tumbler and enjoyed as a digestif.
Try it in a champagne flute and add champagne or prosecco or add a splash into your mulled wine for a festive treat. There are also plenty of wonderful sloe gin cocktails to try too. Here's one of our favourites:
Sloe Gin Negroni - sweeter than the original
Simply fill a glass with ice and add a measure each of sloe gin, regular gin (optional - the finished result is sweeter and lighter if you leave it out), sweet vermouth and campari. Stir until chilled and add an orange garnish.
What other ways can you use sloes?
Sloes fall into the same family as cherries and plums, so you can, in theory, eat them raw, although they are extremely tart and will make your mouth feel incredibly dry! They are best used to add a rich plummy flavour to drinks, including cocktails, as well as puddings. Try combining them with whisky, adding as an ingredient to jellies or jams or even experimenting with chocolate!