It’s that time of year again! Now that it’s October and the weather is getting colder, it is inevitable that those festive feeling are starting to kick in. Especially to those people who really love the feeling of Christmas. December may be a few months away but there is one thing that needs to be prepared now in time for the festivities, and it’s one of our favourites – Sloe Gin.
Every year we take a beautiful autumnal walk through our local nature reserve and go to our favourite tree. Again we have been blessed with an awesome bounty that seems untouched by anyone else.
Why is this you ask? We we think many people may not necessarily know what a sloe berry looks like, or what to do with it to make delicious sloe gin. So we have put together a guide including all the info and pictures to make your sloe gin foraging a much easier task!
The three steps to sloe gin
Step 1 – picking sloes at the right time
How do you know if it’s a sloe? The blackthorn tree or Prunus spinosa is where you can find sloes growing. The tree has some very intimidating looking thorns. They can be up to a few inches in length and cover much of the tree, but don’t be put off. Blackthorn trees are usually found growing next to blackberry bushes in wild hedgerows and scrub land. The sloes themselves are not berries but small plum like fruits called ‘drupes’. When the fruits are ready they turn a dusty blue colour.
We go out every few weeks in Autumn to check on the growth, plus it means fresh air and fitness! From experience if we have had warm weather our local sloes are ready to pick by the end of September or early October. When picked they should come off the branch easily and feel soft to the touch.
Using the right equipment and being nice to the environment
We always take with us a pair of garden gloves each, as the thorns can give a nasty spike and is irritable if a piece gets stuck in the skin. We also wear full length jackets to protect our arms.
In regards to nature, we’re always careful not to break any branches off of the tree. We feel this is unnecessary. Plus we want to come back year after year for more so we respect the tree and leave the branches intact. If there are sloes that are up too high don’t feel the need to get them as leaving a bounty for nature is also a great thing.
Step 2 – The cleaning and freezing process
Usually when we pick the sloes it hasn’t been the first frost, which is necessary in order to release the lovely juices and colours for the gin. So we recreate the first frost at home. First we wash and prick each sloe (once pricked with a knife you should already notice a red colour on the knife from the juice), then we put them into freezer bags, spread them out into one layer and leave them in the freezer for a few days. When they come out, each sloe will have split. They are then ready to be placed into the gin.
Step 3 – Gin, sugar and patience
Which gin you use is completely up to you, but get something of reasonable quality at a price point you’re happy with. We have used Gordon’s for many years and this has been great but this year we are going to test out a new brand.
To make the sloe gin:
First decant a little gin out of the bottle into another container. You need to make some space for the other ingredients. Why not enjoy a little G&T while you make your sloe gin?
Next add 125g of sloes and 125g of sugar into your bottle. You’ll probably want a funnel so you don’t drop and spill anything. Now pop the cap back on the bottle and give it a good shake. It’s now time for the patience part.
For the first week after you’ve made your gin, shake the bottle daily and leave it in a dark place. After that, re-visit the bottle and give it a shake about once a week up until Christmas. If you can’t wait any longer and need a little festive tipple then you can decant your gin then. but.. if you can wait a little longer, the taste is going to be much smoother and fruitier.
To decant the sloes:
You’ll need two large containers, (we use measuring jugs) and a decent sized sheet of muslin.
Decant the sloes though the muslin into the first jug, then again back through he muslin into the second jug. Rinse off the muslin with cold water. Once you have done this a few times and there is no residue being left on the muslin then its time to taste! Have a little taste of the gin and if needed add a little more sugar syrup (dissolve some sugar in warm water). We like ours reasonably sweet, but don’t suggest making it too sweet as you’re likely to mix it with something sweet when you drink it, like lemonade for example.
When you’re happy with the taste you can decant it back into the bottle you brewed it in and give a label. Describe the taste and mark the year.
The beauty of sloe gin is that every batch has a slightly different taste! Some of ours have been quite earthy and some years more fruity. If you would like to get it extra fruity keep the sloes in for another month of two before going through the decanting process.