Slow Sloe Gin

We just bottled the sloe gin mad from sloes we picked last autumn. It’s been steeping and maturing nicely and is now ready, freeing up the jars for this years crop. We use 1 litre Kilner jars (the ones with the rubber seal and the metal hinge and clip that holds the lid on with an airtight seal) and sterilise them in the dishwasher before we start..

We use this recipe. To start it off you just half fill each jar with sloes (picked after the frosts or saved in the freezer, so the skin splits and liberates the juice). Add four ounces of sugar and top up with dry gin and seal the jar. Shake the jar every few hours until the sugar dissolves then store in a dark place for a couple of months, shaking up again every few days. Most recipes specify caster sugar, but as it will all dissolve in the end that’s not crucial. It just might take a bit more shaking! And there is no point in using expensive gin. Cheap supermarket own Brandis perfectly fine for this.

Most sloe gin is actually gin liqueur, which makes it far sweeter than a flavoured gin, almost syrupy. You can bottle it at this stage, but for the last couple of years we’ve tried a second stage, which produces something more like a flavoured gin, less sweet but still having a rich red purple colour. After the first two months of steeping you simply pour half the contents of the jar (fruit and liquid) into a second sterilised jar and top both up with gin. By diluting with more gin, the drink becomes stronger and less sweet. The fruit is left in so even more flavour comes out into the liquid. We’d left it like that for quite a few months before we got to the current bottling stage.

Out came the jelly bag and stand to strain the liquid. We always scald the fabric with boiling water beforehand – it still bears the stains of many a previous batch of sloe gin or bramble jelly.

Then it’s simply a matter of filling the bottles using a funnel (all previously sterilised too).

Any screw top bottle will do. Our original two jars of mixture were diluted with gin into four jars and that resulted in four standard (750ml) bottles of sloe gin. If you’ve saved any smaller bottles to fill with the drink, especially decorative ones, they make great gifts. You can use your sloe gin as an after-dinner liqueur, knock it back as a shot or fill a hip flask for an outdoor tipple on a cold day. It’s also lovely diluted with tonic, soda or lemonade and for something really special, topped up with Prosecco. Drink responsibly!

You can even use the by-broduct: the gin-soaked sloes left in the strainer. It’s a tedious process and we didn’t bother this year, but if have the patience to remove the large seed from each individual sloe berry, there’s a use for the fruit. You can simply serve it over ice cream for a very grown-up dessert, or melt some chocolate, stir in the fruit and let it set. Break it up into bite-sized pieces and enjoy. Gorgeous!

Our bottles are now labelled and ready to use. They are best best stored in a cool dark place but will last pretty well – at least a year or two in our experience. Some years there are no sloes to harvest at all. That happens if there’s a late frost just as the fruit is setting or if it’s too cold for the insects to be out pollinating the flowers (sloe or blackthorn blooms very early in the year)Worth making a large batch….just in case!

Have you ever made your own sloe gin or other fruit liqueurs?