The best sloe gin recipes always start with an adventure. Of course you could just pop to the shop and buy some, but there’s nothing like a day out in the wild fighting brambles, getting stuck in the mud and hunting for your own sloes, then coming home to experiment with making your own tipple.
Sloes grow on blackthorn trees, which can typically be found in scrub, copses and woodlands. It’s also commonly used as a hedging plant. And yeah, you guessed it, they can be pretty prickly beasts, so pick carefully. Our sloe picking location was in a wooded area right on the edge of the river Windrush in Oxfordshire. You can hunt for your sloes by foot, or if you know a good river location, approaching them by canoe is a fun alternative. Tying two adventures together certainly makes for an epic day out.
Blackthorn trees are quite spindly and — strangely enough — are covered in black thorns. With a dark blue-black skin, a yellow flesh and a small stone, sloes are said to be distant relatives of the plum. But be warned, although they’re going to make for some delicious gin, on their own, they’re quite bitter. If you’re curious, try one, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. October to November is usually the best time of year for finding sloes.
Now for making the sloe gin… Although it would certainly make for an amazing Christmas tipple, be patient, as the best sloe gin takes six months to ferment. I mean it tastes good at about three months, but to really get that full flavour, it’s best to wait a little longer.
- 450g/1lb sloes
- 225g/8oz caster sugar
- 1 litre/1¾ pint gin (the better the quality, the better the drink will taste)
- Most recipes tell you to prick through the tough skin of the sloes with a sterilised needle. This allows the berries to release their flavour into the gin. But if that sounds like a whole lot of hard work, just stick them in the freezer overnight. As they freeze the skin will burst, giving you the same result.
- Pop the sloes into a large jar or bottle. Make sure if you choose a bottle like we did that the sloes will fit through the opening.
- Add your sugar and gin, seal tightly and shake, shake, shake. For bottles with skinny necks, a funnel will come in handy.
- Store your homemade tipple in a cool, dark cupboard and for the first week, shake every two days. Then shake once a week for up to six months. You should see the sugar completely dissolved within the first week.
- Finally after three to six months, remove the sloes and any little bits by straining your gin through some muslin.