Sloe season is upon us, which means blackthorn bushes are currently bursting with their astringent fruit. Sloes may be no good for eating but they make incredible gin for winter sipping. Don’t miss this small window of opportunity for picking the vital ingredient for this December’s batch of homemade Christmas pressies
Read on for our guaranteed-gorgeous sloe gin recipe, plus insider tips on how to use the leftover fruit to make a boozy chocolate slab, and on keeping the gin in your car.
To make sloe gin you will need
Ripe sloes 450g
Caster sugar 225g
Gin 1 litre
1. Pick sloes that have grown on blackthorn bushes away from traffic exhaust fumes. The traditional way is to wait until after a frost when the fruit is sweeter, but if you want to ensure you get your hands on a crop before it’s been picked by other sloe gin fans you can freeze the fruit overnight after step 2 – which will have a similar effect.
2. Wash the sloes and pick out any leaves and debris.
3. Sterilise the large jar or jars (Kilner jars are ideal) you plan to make the gin in. Do this by washing the jars in hot soapy water or in the dishwasher and then putting them in the oven (140C/120C fan/gas 1) while still warm to dry – leaving any plastic or rubber seals out of the oven.
4. Weigh out the sloes and calculate how much sugar you will need for the volume of fruit you’ve picked (the ratio is 2:1 fruit to sugar).
5. Prick the skins of the sloes and put the fruit into the sterilised jar.
6. Add the sugar and gin, seal and shake well.
7. Store the jars somewhere cool and dark for two months. Shake every day for a week, then once a week after that.
8. You’ll know the gin is ready when it is a rich colour and tastes good. If it’s not quite sweet and syrupy enough, you can add more sugar syrup at this stage. Strain the gin through muslin (you might want to do this a couple of times to get a sparklingly clear gin).
9. Pour into the sterilised glass bottles (use the same method you used for the jars) you plan to give (or keep) the gin in.
Cheapest gin in the shop?
It’s not worth spending the extra on expensive craft gin to make sloe gin as all that fruit and sugar will hide the finely curated botanicals used in the creation of artisan gin – save that for a G&T and use the house variety instead.
Sugar – before or after?
Some gin experts have told us that the secret to their fabulous gin is waiting until they decant the ready-to-go sloe gin before adding sugar syrup. Apparently having sugar in jar during the maceration process can inhibit the extraction of the natural fruit sugar and flavour from the sloes.
Keep it in the car
Can’t be bothered to shake the jar every week? Some people swear by keeping the jars of fruit and gin in the boot of their car, so the motion caused by driving does the work for them.
Make a boozy slab
Once you’ve strained the gin and decanted it into fancy bottles, keep aside the juicy sloes to make a boozy chocolate slab.
First carefully remove the stones and discard, keeping only the fruit. Dry the fruit well (it’ll be in bits by now) in kitchen paper and then place, evenly spread, on a large piece of baking parchment on a baking tray or chopping board. Melt a bar of good dark chocolate and pour it over the fruit and leave to set. Break up the set chocolate slab into pieces and store in a tin. It makes a good Christmas gift – but don’t let anyone eat it if they’re driving.
Missed the boat?
Even if you missed this year’s crop you can still make sloe gin part of your festive feasting: pick up a perfectly crafted bottle of sloe gin from the expert distillers at 6 O’clock Gin who mature their sip for at least six months. Discover more quality gins in our sister publication, the South West & South Wales Independent Gin and Artisan Spirits Guide.