Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness... and sloe gin. It's great to sip over ice when people come round for a fireside hangout & is super satisfying to say you made it yourself. What's more, tie a ribbon round the bottle neck and voila - it makes an awesome present (we see you on the horizon, Christmas).
Sloe berries are ready to pick in October so it's time to get your foraging freak on.
First things first - Sloe Gin is not, actually, a gin. It's a liqueur, made from infusing gin with a mix of sloe berries and sugar.
So what do sloes look like?
They grow on the buckthorn, a super dense and thorny bush that you'll find all over the countryside. Check near farmland as buckthorn is often used in hedgerows to divide land or stop livestock going rogue. Or hey, you might find some in your local parkland. The sloes are the round, hard, blueish-purple little berries that grow in small clusters like this:
What do they taste like?
Like most things, they get better with booze. Nah seriously, they're majorly bitter so avoid snacking on a couple as you pick - that's what blackberries are for.
However, pair them with sugar & gin and this all changes. You'll create a sweet yet tart, jammy liqueur that's pretty banging to sip on in the colder months. In fact, British aristocrats have been making sloe gin for centuries. They'd call it 'shooting gin' - not for necking but cos they'd pop it in their hip flask for a cheeky tipple when they were out shooting on their estates.
1. Get foraging & harvest your sloe berries! You're gonna need 500g for this recipe.
Tip: Rumour has it that sloe berries are best picked after the first frost. However this is a bit of an old wives tale. What you can do is chuck your berries in the freezer for 24 hours after you've picked them. This splits the skins so they infuse the gin easier.
2. Grab yourself a 2 litre Kilner jar and add your frozen sloes. Pop in 250g caster sugar.
3. Now, add your gin! It's a litre for every 500g of sloe berries.
Tip: Use good quality gin. This isn't a case of cheap supermarket own-brand spirits that'll be masked by berries and sugar. You use sh*t gin, you're gonna get a sh*t gin liqueur. Simple as that. So invest in a decent gin = luckily for you, we've rounded up tour top 20 gins so one of these babies should do the job.
4. Now - shake what ya mama gave ya. And the jar. Shake that too. Hard.
5. For the next 7 days give the jar a good shaking once a day.
6. Now comes the hard part - the waiting. Urghhhh we know. Instant gratification is what we all want, but that ain't the way you're gonna get a quality product. It's not called Fast Gin, right? So find a cool, dark spot and leave there for 2 months. Get picking this weekend and it'll be ready for mid-December - wicked.
Tip: Not in a rush? Leave it for longer! If you can leave for 4 months then you're gonna have an even more intense taste sensation. Just the thing to add some joy to those bleak February months.
7. Fast forward 2 months. It's almost Christmas, everyone's merry, cheerful & hopefully not in lockdown (pleazzze). You've just watched Elf for the third time this week & Mariah is on a loop in the background. IT'S TIME TO DECANT YOUR GIN, YO! Grab yourself a very fine sieve and a large bowl.
Tip: Not got an ultra-fine sieve? Use a piece of muslin cloth in a normal one.
8. Pour the mixture out, getting rid of the sediment & berries, then divide your sloe gin into various little bottles. Decide who of your nearest & dearest deserves to taste the fruits of your labour, or hell, keep it all for yourself. That'll be a very merry Christmas.
Tip: As tempting as it might be to drink your stash over the course of a week cos it's so damned tasty, it's a good idea to try & save a little bit. The liqueur will continue to change in flavour and increase in richness & depth, so see if any makes it to 2021. Jeez, if there's one thing we'll all be raising a glass to at midnight on the 31st it's 2020 coming to an end...
Or want a tasty sloe gin to drink while waiting for your own to infuse? These are three must-have bottles for your home bar:
These guys aren't messing about - they mix hand-picked hedgerow sloes with London Dry Gin and leave to soak slowly for at least six months. Crikey, patience or what? This lengthy maturation process means you get extra richness, alongside sweet fruit aromas of plum with flavours of Kirsch cherry with a hint of subtle spice. It's also less sweet/sickly than many other sloe gins, and they recommend enjoying with a piece of creamy blue cheese. Hell yes. Wanna really push the boat out? Grab their 5 Year Aged Sloe Gin.
Gin kings Sipsmith make a cracking version using their London Dry Gin which they then rest on wild sloe berries they pick in the autumn. It's got a complex & subtle flavour, with cassis coming through on the palate & soft cherry hints alongside a rounded fruitiness. Have it in their Sloe Gin Fizz cocktail that also combines Champagne, egg white & lemon juice.
'Sloe, but more so.' The folks over at Whittaker's Gin in Harrogate have created Double-Sloe Gin by combining macerated-sloe gin and distilled-sloe gin, then lightly sweetening with liquorice root. It's fresh & invigorating with deep, rich and crisp pine notes followed by sloe berry tartness & mellowed by sweet vanilla and cherry. Plus there's a ghost hare on the front. What's not to love?