It’s mid-August, which means it won’t be long until those lovely sloe berries will be ripe for picking and making into some homemade sloe gin.
If you’ve never made your own sloe gin, it’s a really simple process, and gives you a real sense of satisfaction once you have the first taste of your batch.
I’ve made sloe gin for the last four or five years, with varying levels of success. Timing and measurements are important, as I have found out. So here is my foolproof beginners guide to making sloe gin.
What You’ll Need
Makes 1 litre
- 1 litre of medium quality gin (it doesn’t have to be expensive, but certainly not cheap. It makes all the difference!)
- 450g (1lb) of sloes berries
- 225g of caster sugar
- 1 sterilised sewing needle
- 1 sterilised jar
- Muslin cloth
Step 1 – How to Spot Sloe Berries
Now is the perfect time to wander around woodlands and peering into hedgerows, the sloes are appearing and are easy to spot once you know what to look out for. Blackthorn bushes are often quite tall and have thin, thorny branches with narrow green leaves. Around April or May, the bushes have a white blossom, but if you’re trying to find them in the Summer or Autumn months, it’s easier to look out for the distinctive round, blue-black berries with a purplish blue powdery looking covering.
Once you’ve identified where the sloes are growing, you just need to wait it out until they’re ready to pick. Lots of people will tell you to pick sloes after the first frost, but this isn’t always reliable. If it’s an early frost, and is just the one frost, the sloes won’t be ripe enough, as I found out the hard way, and your gin will end up tasting of nothing. Wait until the weather is consistently frosty and then you should find that the cold weather has really ripened up the fruit and made the flesh much softer.
If it’s been a mild year and hasn’t really frosted by late October/ early November, you can pick the berries and put the in the freezer at home until the skin splits.
Sloes grow close to the branch, and are surrounded by long thorns, so watch your fingers as you pick them!
If you find some berries which look similar to the picture above, but are not spherical and are hanging slightly on a stalk, they are likely to be wild plums rather than sloes. If you’re unsure what fruit you’ve picked you can always have a little taste – if you take a bite and immediately screw your face up because the taste is so bitter, you’ve hit the sloe jackpot.
And don’t worry if you can’t find any sloes growing near you (or if you don’t like going out in the cold) – the wonders of modern technology mean that you can always buy them on eBay!
Step 2 – Combining the Ingredients
Once you’ve picked all of your sloes, you’ll need to remove any debris or stalks attached to the berries and pierce the skin a few times with a sterilised needle. It’s quite labour intensive, but easy enough to do whilst watching tv, and even easier if you have another pair of hands helping you.
Add the berries to a large sterilised jar. I use a big Kilner jar, but any glass jar is fine as long as it’s been sterilised. To do this you can either put it in the dishwasher on the highest setting, or if it’s heatproof, put it in the oven for about 15 minutes at around 140 degrees, removing any rubber seals and boiling these instead. Once the glass has completely cooled or dried then it is ready to use.
Add the caster sugar to the berries and finally pour in your gin. As mentioned in my list of ingredients, a medium quality gin is best when making your own sloe gin. Using cheap gin can be tempting, but the end result is so disappointing. If you’re going to wait so long to drink the fruits of your labour, it’s worth paying the extra few pounds for a half decent gin. I usually use Greenalls gin (mostly because it’s usually on offer at Christmas) but it does the job perfectly.
Seal the container and give it a really good shake. You should start to see the gin turn a very pale pink colour like the picture above. Place the jar in a cool, dark place.
Step 3 – Shake and Wait
For the first week, shake the mixture every other day. You might not notice much change in the colour of the gin during this time, but don’t worry.
After the first week, you only need to shake the mixture once a week. This is when you’ll notice more of a colour change as the sloes steep in the gin.
Continue shaking the mixture once a week and returning to a cool dark place for at least 8 weeks. I prefer to leave mine for at least 12 weeks – the longer you leave it, the better the taste.
By this point, your gin should be a dark purple colour. If the gin is still pink, the sloes won’t have been ripe enough when they were added to the gin.
Step 4 – Decant and Enjoy!
Use a muslin cloth to cover the opening of a similar sized sterilised jar and pour the sloe infused gin slowly through it.
Don’t throw away the alcohol infused berries once you’ve decanted your gin, you can use them to make tipsy chocolate or sloe brandy.
And now all that is left is to sit back, relax and savour what those months of waiting have all been leading up to. Enjoy!