Friday, 24 December 2010

Making Sloe Gin 9 December 2010

Usually I would pick and bottle my sloes in the autumn, but this year I wasn't able to pick any sloes, blackberries or elderberries because I was busy getting married in California.  That means no elderberry cordial or blackberry jam this year but I think it is a fair trade.  Anyway my friend Fruity and I went foraging for sloes in November but the birds had gotten them all already, so I gave in and bought some from Messr. E. Bay.  Desperate times call for desperate measures. 

I've never seen sloes growing in California, so I thought I'd share the process here for anyone who hasn't heard of them.  Sloes are small, marble-sized blue-black berries in the prunella family.  They grown on blackthorn hedges.  They taste terrible raw, but if you put bottle them with gin and sugar and leave it sitting in the back of your pantry for a few months, they transform your plain old gin into a magical purple liqueur of delight and wonder.  No other drink comes close to sloe gin's toe-warming power.  I drink it neat in very small amounts.  It doesn't make you feel drunk, but your whole body warms up and you sink into a haze of midwinter cosiness, with your feet up in front of the fire and the wind whistling outside.

Sloe gin is just about the easiest home-made booze there is, especially considering the enormously satisfying returns on your labor.  First you need to go out and pick some sloe berries.  They are ripe in the late autumn.  You can pick them as soon as they are ripe, but some people say you should wait until after the first frost.  If you can't find them growing wild, you might be able to find them for sale on the interweb.  

Next, buy some gin.  Last year I used the second cheapest Sainsbury's own brand gin and it came out great.  This year we are being extra frugal so I used Sainsbury's Basics gin.  I know people like to go on about Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray and all those other expensive gins, but gin has historically been a cheap and dirty drink, so I have high hopes for my crappy Basics brand gin.  We shall see.

Now, you need to put the sloes into your container.  I used an empty two liter water bottle last year.  This year I'm using empty one liter liquor bottles rescued from the recycling.  If you want to get all fancy you can buy a demijohn.  Weigh your berries.  You'll want to use about the same amount of sugar as berries.  Prick each berry several times with a skewer or blackthorn thorn, and place it in the empty bottle.  Once all the berries are in the bottle, add the sugar, and then top it up with gin.  Basically you want to have one third berries, one third sugar, and one third gin.  You can add all sorts of spices and secret ingredients but this basic recipe will produce a very tasty sloe gin. 

Finally, when your sloe gin is all bottled up, place the bottle in a dark, cool area to chill out for a few months.  For the first week, shake the bottles up once a day.  After a few days of this, the sugar should have fully dissolved.  After that, I give the bottles a shake once a week.  The longer you leave the bottles, the better your sloe gin will taste, but it's best to leave it for at least two months before drinking.

When your sloe gin is ready to drink, strain out all the berries and bits.  Decant it into smaller bottles and give it as Christmas gifts.  There's nothing better than homemade presents, especially edible ones.  Just promise me you won't buy store-bought sloe gin.  If you want the full wild-tasting warming loveliness of sloe gin, you have to make it yourself the old-fashioned way. 

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