Sloe Gin is usually thought of as a winter drink but it is around September that it is time to keep your eyes out for Sloe trees whilst out walking. Come Autumn it will be time to pick and make a winter treat that is best enjoyed on a cold night in front of a roaring log fire or as an aperitif to the classic Sunday roast on frosty winters day.
Randomly, like parsnips, they are said to be best after they have been touched by the first frost of the winter, however, with freezers at your disposal there is no real need to wait that long. Especially if it is a mild autumn and the sloes might be passed their best/gone by the time the first frost comes. The reason for waiting for the first frost is that it helps break down the skins so that the colour and flavour of the sloes will infuse into the Gin better. It is also said that you should prick each sloe with a pin but bugger that for a game of soldiers…. Just pick them when they are ripe, when squeezed they should yield like a ripe plum, stick them in the freezer overnight and then you are ready to go. Also use a decent Gin – don’t use a cheap one – rubbish in equals rubbish out….
Personally I like to use a large airtight Kilner jar – make sure you sterilise it first – then fill it half way up with the frozen sloes, a couple of large table spoons of caster sugar and then top it up with Gin. Some recipes will call for far more sugar at the start but it surely makes sense to sweeten it at the end to the steeping process when you can control the end result.
Put the jar in a dark place and leave it for at least 2-3 months but give the jar a turn every couple of days for first few weeks.
After a few months strain the gin through a muslin and then sweeten to taste using a sugar syrup (50% caster sugar/50% water – gently warmed until the sugar is all dissolved). Then the sloe Gin can be decanted into sterilised bottles and then drunk (ideal for Christmas), some say it improves with age so maybe keep a bottle or two for next year?
This year I plan to make a double batch and keep one batch for next year and maybe one bottle of that batch for the following year to carry out taste tests 🙂