Gin, flavoured with deliciously sweet, tart and fruity sloe berries.
Last year was the first time I made flavoured gins from foraged fruit, and sloe gin was the one that got me started on this obsession. I had always been told that sloe bushes were rare, and that people were very protective of any they knew about, so when we found one on a walk last year I was really excited!
However I have since realised that this is definitely a myth, or something people who don’t go on a lot of countryside walks think! Since then I have found lots of sloe bushes, often on the sides of countryside paths or in field hedges, so I’m sure anyone could find one if they look hard enough.
Sloes grow on a thorny bush called the blackthorn bush, with tear shaped leaves and very long spikes on the branches. It flowers in early spring with little white flowers, so it’s worth keeping an eye out at that time of year as you can easily identify a few sloe bushes to come back to in winter! The mayflower or Hawthorn bush also flowers at this time of year, but it’s bushes have leaves that are toothed, so they are easy to tell apart! You can also make gin from Hawthorn berries though.
Traditionally, sloes aren’t picked until after the first frost, as the freezing breaks their skins, allowing them to release their juices into the gin more easily. However now you can just pick them when they are ripe and freeze them overnight to mimic the process. (Alternatively, if you are short of freezer space you can prick them individually with a needle!)
You can tell if a sloe is ripe by giving them a squeeze between your fingers, they should give a little, and if they are very ripe the skin will break and some juice will be released. If they are rock hard, they are unripe, and you might want to wait a week or two before picking them.
Now is the perfect time to start your sloe gin,as it will be ready just in time for christmas, and a bottle will make an excellent gift.
Variations: You can add lemon or orange peel to the berries to give your gin a slightly citrusy flavour, you could also add some wintery spices at this point which would be really good for drinking at Christmas.
One of my favourite variations we tried last year was adding a vanilla pod after you bottle the gin and leaving it to develop for a few months before drinking.
Ingredients: Makes around 800-900ml
- 400g sloes
- 200g sugar
- 750ml gin
Weigh out and wash 400g of sloe berries. Place in a bag, and freeze over night.
Remove the berries from the freezer and tip into a large (>1.5L) kilner jar. Add the sugar to the jar, followed by the gin.
Close and seal the jar, then shake to help the sugar dissolve. Keep shaking semi-regally for a few hours until the sugar has almost dissolved.
Store in a cool dark place for three months, shaking occasionally.
Once ready strain the gin through a sieve and pour into sterilised glass bottles and seal.
Don’t throw away the used sloes, you can still do something with them! You can make a sloe port, sloe vodka or sloe jam.
The gin can be drunk right away, but the flavour will develop if you leave it in the bottles for as long as possible. Some people say that sloe gin is better the older it is, and keep bottles for years before drinking.
Serve over ice and enjoy!