Words by Megan De Meo
It’s November, the clocks have gone back, there’s a biting chill in the air. Autumn is full of tradition and rituals which bring us comfort as winter sets in. This year, why not add another tradition to that list? Spend an afternoon picking sloe berries, which can be found in hedgerows across the country, to make sloe gin.
Once you have your berries you will need to mix them with gin and sugar, either plain or caster. You will need 400g-500g of each -depending on how bountiful your foraging efforts have been- for a 70cl bottle of gin. Part of the joy of sloe gin is that it’s different every time you make it.
When I first made gin four years ago, I was told to pick my berries after the first frost. Since then the frost has come later and later in the year. Last year it felt as though the frost barely came at all. If the frost has not arrived by early November, leave your sloes in the freezer overnight. This replicates the frost, which signals to the fruit to start breaking down- producing the sugars that make up that unmistakable flavour.
The next step is the most time consuming: pricking the sloes. Using a needle or a paring knife, prick a small hole in each berry. This rupturing of the fruit encourages the sloes to start breaking down. Some recipes will instruct you to either freeze or prick your sloes, and you could get away with just doing one or another. However, taking the time to do both will lead to maximum flavour in your gin.
To store the mixture you will need a large soft drink bottle, something like a two litre lemonade bottle. This has the advantage of being able to hold the volume you need and is unlikely to leak. Pour in the sugar and gin with a funnel, followed by your newly pricked sloes. Once the lid is screwed on tight, turn the bottle over several times so that the ingredients are equally distributed throughout.
Your sloe gin should be stored on its side in a cool place, away from direct sunlight. Rather than store this away in a cupboard, I like to keep it on a shelf. Somewhere I can see it everyday- part of the fun is the slow anticipation of the festive season. For similar reasons I opt to turn the bottle over every day. In reality, this frequency is only necessary for the first week or so. After which time, the bottle needs turning once or twice a week.
The gin needs to be left for a minimum of six weeks. The longer you leave the mixture the richer it will become so it’s a good idea to make an extra bottle to enjoy in the new year.
The final step is to decant and enjoy your sloe gin. If you have it, you can strain the mixture through a muslin cloth. I have always passed it through a sieve twice, the residual bits of berry don’t bother me.
The final product can be enjoyed simply with ice and tonic, mulled with apple juice and festive spices, or in a variety of cocktails.