November 5th, 2012
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn bush (fairly common in northern Europe) and are little mini plums with an astringent taste. However, when used to infuse gin, the sloes impart a taste like almonds and colour the drink ruby red. One can buy commercial versions of sloe gin, but home made tastes far superior.
Sloe Gin recipe:
4lb sloes (if you are picking them, a carrier bag full)
4 1/2 bottles gin
1 lb unrefined caster sugar
Pick your sloes at the end of October or beginning of november after the first frost. Wash the fruit to remove any dirt or dust. Prick the sloes, traditionally with a thorn from the blackthorn bush, but I have to confess that I used and recommend a meat sewing needle. Half fill a 1 gallon (imperial) demijohn with the sloes.
Cover the sloes with sugar – I use the sugar sparingly, I’m not a big fan, but it is necessary for the extraction and infusion.
Top up the demijohn with gin, leave a small amount of breathing space at the top, cork the bottle and give it a good shake to mix things up.
Leave the sloe gin to infuse for 2 months, giving it a shake on a daily basis for the first week. Keep it in a cool dark place (cupboard). By Christmas the sloe gin can be filtered and decanted into bottles. A little more sugar can be added and the demijohn can be topped up with gin a second time to produce a spring “vintage”. Sloe gin is said to improve over a few years of keeping. After decanting the second batch, the sloes can be used for baking or chocolate truffles. Some people add brandy, cider or white wine to the sloes to produce a final alcoholic infusion.
Sloes are very popular for infusions in other countries too! In Germany they make a sloe gin called Schlehenfeuer (sloe fire) and in the Basque Country sloes are used to infuse an aniseed based liquor called Patxaran, which I might make next year…
There is a particularly good sloe gin forum here.
For anyone struggling to find sloes (it is a bad year), you may be able to order some online from Wyllowytch.