October to December is prime time for picking sloe berries in the UK. These big berries have an unintentionally apt name – while it’s a really simple process to make sloe gin, it takes quite a long time for sloe berries to break down and make the syrupy ruby-purple goodness that is sloe gin. You’ll need to wait at least 3 months until your sloe gin is ready – though many say the longer you leave it the better it tastes – so leave it for a year or more if you can resist cracking into it for longer!
6 Steps to Sloe Gin Heaven
You’ll need: 1 bottle of gin per 500g (approx.) of sloes and some sugar
1. Know your sloes! Before you get started on making the stuff, you need to get your hands on some sloe berries.
Sloes are fruit from blackthorn trees, which are reasonably common throughout most of the United Kingdom. Traditionally, they’re best picked after the first frost, but with freezers and global warming (meaning the sloes may well not be ripe when the first frost arrives) this isn’t really that relevant these days. Make sure they’re the right berries (pierce the skin on one – they should have a green flesh inside, and will taste bitter as hell!), then fill your pockets!
Tip: If foraging isn’t for you, or you’re too busy to bush hunt, you can just buy some online…
2. Pop your sloes in the freezer overnight – this makes the skins burst and helps with releasing their flavour
3. Remove the sloes from the freezer and allow them to defrost, then prick each sloe a few times – this completes the process above and will make them start to leak
Tip: To save time, slice each sloe with a knife instead
4. Add your sloes to a sealable jar along with good quality gin and leave to steep in a dark place for at least 3 months, giving the jar a shake every few days
Tip: Instead of adding sugar at this point, we recommend waiting until the sloe berries have steeped. This allows you to adjust the sweetness to taste later on, and also lets the gin draw the natural sugars from the sloes themselves
5. When you’re happy that it’s fully steeped – we’d recommend waiting a year if you can face it – make a simple syrup by heating equal parts water and sugar in a pan over a low heat until the sugar crystals have dissolved.
6. Add the syrup to your unsweetened sloe gin a little at a time, stirring and tasting as you go, until you’ve reach a sweetness that suits your taste. When you’re happy, strain your sloe gin through muslin into bottles and enjoy at your leisure!
The art of making sloe gin is full of tradition, so there’s loads of varying techniques and personal touches people add, from including crushed almonds to pricking the berries with silver needles. If your favourite way of making sloe gin is a little different to ours, let us know in the comments!