Autumn is finally here and it’s the best time to pick (or buy) sloe berries and make your own sloe gin, so you can enjoy some on cold and cosy wintery nights. Sloe gin also makes a thoughtful homemade gift, perfect for Christmas!
For those who aren’t familiar with the sweet and fruity liquor, sloe gin is made from soaking sloe berries (or ‘drupes’ as they are called, a relative of the plum) with sugar in gin, until you get a deep ruby red colour and a very sweet liquor – not unlike port.
Making sloe gin is fun and easy to do – but once you’ve bottled it, it does take a little time to develop and mature!
First of all, you’ll need some sloes. A lot of sloes. Ripe sloes. Of course you could buy them, but picking them is more fun. And now is the best time to find them, so get picking!
We found some blackthorn bushes along some hedgerows near Wool in Dorset, but as they grow wild you can really find them all over – Hampstead Heath is apparently also a popular sloe picking spot.
We took our little sniffer dog with us in the hope that we could train her to sniff them out for us, but no such luck.
When she was done chasing her tail and running in circles around the field, she lay in the grass to sunbathe, so we left her to it.
We took a couple of big plastic bags with us to collect them in, and didn’t stop picking until we had filled them both right up!
Although the sloes were still rock hard, they were perfectly round and big. All you need to do with these rock hard sloes is put them in a freezer to simulate the ‘first frost’, which softens them and causes the skins to split – which is what you want, so all the juices can mix with the gin.
Once we got home we washed them in the sink to get rid of any bugs, dirt and leaves – they all just float to the top if you fill a large bowl under the tap.
Then we dried them on some kitchen paper, and popped them all in the freezer. Ideally they need to stay in the freezer at least overnight, but we left them in there for a number of weeks until we had time to make the sloe gin!
As the sloes were frozen rock solid and some had stuck together, I rinsed them again under the tap, then put them onto some more kitchen paper. Most of the sloes’ skins had already split, and all of them were feeling much squishier!
I got three 1 litre sized glass clip-top Kilner bottles from Lakeland, and filled each one just over half way with the sloes.
As I pressed each sloe through the top, I made sure each skin had already split. Just by squeezing them the skins would pop right open, and some of the sloes slipped right out of their skins!
Once all of the bottles had sloes in them, I topped each one up near the top with gin, then added around 4 tablespoons of caster sugar (I ended up using a teaspoon instead, as the sugar spilt everywhere using a tablespoon!). I gave them a bit of a shake and they’ve already changed colour!
Now I’m keeping them on their side on a shelf in the kitchen until Christmas time, turning them over every two days or so. The rule of thumb is to let it steep for two to six months (it’s best not to leave the sloes in the gin for longer than this as it could spoil the gin), then strain the gin using coffee filters (discarding any bits of fruit) and pour the smooth liquor into sterilised bottles.Once the smooth gin is bottled, you can store it for years!
As it takes at least two months for the gin to absorb all the lovely sloe juices and flavour, there really couldn’t be a better time to get started with making your very own. If you start making some this October, your sloe gin should be ready to drink by Christmas time.
To make this at home, you will need:
- Gin (I used two bottles of Gordon’s to fill four bottles)
- Caster sugar
- Clip-top bottles
1. Fill each sterilised bottle just over half way with sloes, then top up with gin and 2 – 5 spoonfuls of caster sugar (depending on how sweet you like it). Give it a shake, then leave them in a cool dark place for at least two months, turning the bottle or shaking it every now and again.
2. Once it’s ready, pour into a new sterilisedcontainer, jar or bottle using a funnel and a coffee filter, then seal with a lid and drink whenever, or give away as a homemade Christmas present!