Last year I wanted to make some sloe gin, but I couldn’t seem to find any sloes anywhere and no one I asked knew where I could find any… which was pretty silly because I live in the countryside. Anyway, I found some in the end, but they were pretty small and inaccessible and I didn’t get very many. I still ginned them, and came out with two bottles of sloe gin, plus a bottle of damson gin because I accidentally picked some damsons thinking they were sloes. Surprisingly the damson is actually really nice! So if you’re anywhere near any damsons next year, definitely make sure you get some. I didn’t have access to any damsons this year, which was a bit sad, but I did stumble across more sloes than I could ever have imagined. It was like everywhere I went, there were sloes, big, fat, juicy ones in huge great bushes, more than you could ever need.
Needless to say I took several friends sloe picking on several different occasions and managed to fill about 8 Tupperware boxes and 1 carrier bag. Which promptly all got frozen because a; I had a lot of work on and didn’t have time to gin them all, and b; apparently they are supposed to be better after they’ve been frozen. Either way, they ended up sitting in my freezer for about two months before I eventually got around to pulling them out and ginning them, which I ended up doing in two parts due to having more sloes than gin!
So making sloes into gin is a pretty simple process. And if you’re anything like me, you can tie it in to dinner party activities and some of your friends will undoubtedly volunteer to help, which can be great if you’ve got the amount of sloes I wound up with this year! Basically, you need sloes, empty jars, brown sugar, and gin… that’s it.
So take your sloes out of whatever container you’ve stored them in, give them a rinse to get rid of anything you don’t want, and put some into your first jar, so that it is about a third full. Now, some people say you should prick your sloes with a fork so that the gin gets in and the juice gets out easier. But the truth is it’s not going to make a whole lot difference, except to your arm and patience after you’ve spent 10 minutes pricking individual sloes and then realise you’ve still got another 6 punnets to go through. Plus if you’ve frozen them like I did then they burst during the maturing time anyway. Basically just chuck them in your jar and they’ll do their thing over time.
So when your jar is a third full of sloes add a thick layer of brown sugar. Then add more sloes until the jar is about two thirds full, then add another thick layer of brown sugar, then top up the rest of the jar with sloes. Don’t overfill or you’ll cause yourself problems, just fill to a normal level. Now it’s time to add the gin. You can use any old gin, expensive gin, cheap gin, last years left over gin, it makes no difference. Obviously the exception to that is flavoured gin because that will have an effect on how your sloe gin tastes when it’s finished. I wouldn’t advise using flavoured gin unless you’re 100% sure it’s going to taste nice mixed with sloes, but it’s up to you. So, pour your gin into your sloe and sugar filled jar. Do this slowly, as the gin needs to seep down through the fruit and sugar. If you pour too fast it will bubble over the top and spill everywhere, waste of gin.
Keep pouring slowly until the gin just covers the top of the sloes. Now, at this point, you will probably see that the whole mixture has somehow ‘shrunk’ and no longer fills the jar to the top. This is because the sugar begins to dissolve in the gin, and also gets moved around the jar, freeing up some space. You can do what you like with this space. I tend to add a few more sloes and a bit more gin until the jar is full again, but you can add just gin without the sloes, or you can leave it empty and move on to your next jar.
When you’ve finished a jar make sure you seal the lid firmly and give it a bit of shake. Then find somewhere to store it, not too hot, not too cold, and remember to give it a little shake a couple times a month.
Now, there are various different suggestions on how long you should leave your gin before you think about straining it. In some cases people don’t even strain it, but I recommend straining after a certain amount of time as otherwise the fruit begins to break down and can leave your gin with a gritty texture that isn’t totally desirable.
At the very least you want to give your fruit 4 months to let that flavour really infuse your gin. Personally I would recommend leaving it at least eight months, to get a fuller, deeper flavour and texture. Last year I left mine for ten months, and thoroughly enjoyed it when I opened it. This years I plan to leave for ten to twelve months, but that will of course depend largely on my patience! Any longer than a year and the fruit will begin to break down and effect the quality of your gin.
So there’s how I make my sloe gin, and this ‘recipe’, if you can call it that, should leave your gin rich, syrupy, and absolutely lovely. Enjoy.