“Slow” Gin and Tonic has a pretty pink glow – and so do I after drinking a couple of these! Above the pinky orange drinks are sloe gin, the deep purple one is a blackberry version.
Sloes are the berries of the blackthorn tree, which have a bluish purple bloom to them, making them appear like small dark grapes. Watch out for the slender thorns on the tree when you pick them, and never take all you can see – leave some for the birds. Just a few handfuls will be enough for a winter’s supply of that delicious Christmas tipple of sloe gin.
Ideally pick the berries after the first frost, because this freezing tenderises the skins, a job which used to be done by pricking each once individually. Alternatively pop them in the freezer overnight and let electricity do Jack Frost’s job for once. After a quick rinse in cold water they are ready to use.
After making this year’s supply I asked one of my children to write the label for me. I never thought to spell it for him but actually it makes me smile every time I read “Slow Gin”!
I took some advice from Jared Brown from the artisan distillers Sipsmith, who make their own excellent sloe gin. This is what he suggests:
The usual way to make sloe gin and similar drinks is to put the fruit, sugar and alcohol together in the bottle, and then gently shake it every other day for the first week until the sugar dissolves. The advantage of this method is that the job is done all in one go and all you have to do is sit back and wait for it to be ready. However, the only problem with this method is sometimes the resulting drink turns out to be too sweet. Jared recommends that you sweeten your drink after it has matured using sugar syrup, which you can add to the bottle little by little until you have the sweetness you like.
Makes 2 x 1 litre bottles or Kilner jars
- 600g ripe sloes
- 1 litre gin
- 2 almonds, lightly crushed (optional, see above)
For the sugar syrup
- 200g granulated cane sugar
- 200ml water
- Wash the fruit and dry between 2 clean tea towels. Unless the berries were picked after the first frost (see above), put them in a plastic bag in the freezer overnight.
- The following day, bring the fruit out of the freezer and let it defrost. Divide the berries between your sterilised jars and top up with the gin.
- Drop an almond into each jar (if using). Put on the lids and transfer the jars to a cool, dark cupboard.
- Shake the bottles gently every other day for the first week, and then leave them alone for at least 3 months to mature and up to one year.
- After this time, strain out the sloes and discard them. You can then return the liqueur to the same bottle to mature for several years before sampling; it will mellow with time.
Sample the gin and add sugar syrup to taste
Once you are ready to start drinking your sloe gin, prepare the sugar syrup. Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, and then set aside to cool. Add the concentrated sugar syrup to the bottle, little by little, stirring thoroughly and tasting regularly until you are happy with the sweetness – you may not need it all. Store in a cool, dark place for 3 months and up to 3 years.
Recipe extracted from our latest book The Gentle Art of Preserving published by Kyle Books 2013.