Sloe gin is a red liqueur made with gin and sloe drupes, which are a small fruit relative of the classic plum. Sloe gin is easy and fun to make. It lets you create the exact flavour profile that you want or experiment with new ones.
History of Sloe Gin
The history of sloe gin began in the 17th century after Parliament converted common lands to private farmlands. In order to separate the farms, hedgerows were needed. Blackthorns were used as a form of fencing during this time and the sloes produced by these blackthorns are still used today.
Sloe gin was created to make use of the otherwise unappetising sloes. The berries themselves are bitter and somewhat gritty when eaten, but farmers did not want to waste the produce. Over time it became a staple Christmas drink. This warming spirit is great to serve at parties or as a gift.
When to Find Sloes
The best time to go foraging for sloes depends on where you live and the local climate. As a general rule, expect to be searching during September and October as the weather starts to change from Summer to Autumn. You want to harvest your sloes after the first frost of the season.
You can find sloes in blackthorn bushes. When they are ripe, the sloes look like bunches of grapes, but you do not want to bite into one. While the sloes may appear sweet and juicy, they are actually bitter and unpleasant.
Making the Sloe Gin
Once you have your sloes, it is time for the good part, making the sloe gin. The process of making sloe gin is simple and easy, but there are a couple of important steps to do along the way.
Wash Your Sloes
This one may seem obvious, but it is worth mentioning. Be sure to rinse your sloes under cool water for several seconds before using them. Rinsing the sloes helps remove dust and debris from the sloes as well as potential pesticides or other chemicals the sloes may have been exposed to. This part of the process is more about removing foreign matter than cleaning the sloes for sanitation. The alcohol sterilises everything.
Prepping the Sloes
The outer wall of the sloes does not break down when exposed to alcohol. This means that if you simply add fresh sloes to a spirit, the sloes cannot infuse into the spirit. To account for this, you can cut or prick the skin of each sloe.
While pricking the skin of the sloes does work, it is time-consuming and nobody can really be bothered to do that. Instead, just toss the sloes into the freezer in a freezer bag overnight. When the sloes freeze, the skins will burst. Once they have thawed back out, the juices from the sloes can easily infuse into the spirit.
Mix the Sugar
The good news! Sloe gin requires a decent amount of sugar. You should add about half as much sugar as you have sloes into the spirit of your choice. The best option is to use gin. This is because gin already has the juniper berry flavour, but you can also use vodka if you want a more basic spirit.
You should use enough gin or vodka to cover the sloes entirely. Once you have mixed the sugar into the spirit, add the sloes into your bottles or jars. Once you have filled each jar, cover the sloes with alcohol, and close the jar. Store the jars in a cool, dark place while the sloes infuse into the spirit.
How Long to Wait? Making sloe gin is an easy process, but it does take time. You should allow your jars to sit and soak for at least two months before serving. Yes, you heard me correctly. 2 months. You should also make sure that you shake the jars every couple of days. This helps allow the flavours to disperse throughout the spirit evenly.
You can certainly drink your sloe gin earlier than two months, but do not expect it to have the same rich flavour that you are expecting. While the juices do mix with the spirit quickly, there is still flavour to be extracted from the sloes.
On the other hand, you can leave it much longer than 2 months. Thanks to the alcohol, the sloes cannot rot or go “off”; the alcohol has preserved them. This means that you can let them soak as long as you want, but there is a point at which no more progress can be made.
Once you have let the jars soak for at least two months, you should bottle your sloe gin. The process is simple; you just need to strain the sloes from the gin as you pour it into the new bottle. Make sure you are using clean bottles. Glass bottles are ideal; avoid plastics as these can leak chemicals into your gin.
Making sloe gin at home is easy. All you need are the right ingredients and a few empty jars. Try different ratios and adding different berries to make this recipe your own. Raspberries and blackberries, for example, can be added to give your sloe gin even more flavour.