Thursday, 20 September 2007

How I make sloe gin

Once again, it's that time of year where the beautiful berries of the blackthorn can be seen cheekily gleaming from the hedgerows, and I sally forth with my crumpled carrier bag to pluck and harvest a few to make my habitual ode to seasonality: sloe gin.
For the last couple of years, I've gone a-picking on September 1st. But this year, the fruit looked so fresh and full and swollen that I couldn't wait that long, and went out mid-August. I use both sloes and damsons, whatever I can find in the hedgerows and passages of my corner of the world.

Every year a number of people ask me how to make sloe gin, and I find myself repeating the instructions. This year, as a public service, I share with you, the Jaffle McSnaffle Secret Recipe for Sloe Gin. It's not secret. It's so simple a barely a recipe. But it's how I do it.

What You'll Need

  • Gin, as much as you fancy. It generally comes in bottles

  • Sloes, about equal in volume to your gin

  • Some sugar (see below)

  • A tight-sealable jar about twice the volume of your gin

  • A pointy thing, such as a cocktail stick (I use a wooden one).

What To Do

  • Pick

  • Prick

  • Pour

  • Pause

  • Partake

Having picked and washed a quantity of sloes broadly equal in volume to a 70cl bottle of gin, I take a two-litre Kilner jar. Any kind of tight-sealable container will do, but it will need to be about twice the capacity of the gin you've got (because you've got a similar volume of fruit, see?). I'm not precious about the quantity, I just go a-picking and stop when I have what seems to be about enough.

Next, prick each sloe a number of times with the pointy thing and dump it (the sloe, not the pointy thing) in the jar. This helps the juicy berry goodness to infuse in the gin, which is the whole point of the exercise. It's a tedious job, especially if you've gone crazy and picked lots and lots of teeny tiny little sloes. But it's essential, so wind your lower lip in and get on with it. If it helps to alleviate the tedium, just imagine making all those holes in a teabag yourself. Blimey.

Next, pour some sugar into the jar until it completely covers the sloes, shaking the jar so that the sugar fills all the gaps between the berries. Sloeberries are more than a little bit bitter, so you'll need a fair bit of sugar; don't be shy with it. I use Fairtrade Golden Granulated, but you'll doubtless choose sugar appropriate to your personal ethics and tastes.

Finally, glug in the gin. Seal the jar tight and you're done with all the hard work!

Now all you have to do is wait. Give the jar a bit of a shake once a week or so to help the sugar dissolve. After a while, it'll have magically vanished into the by-now deep-purple liquid.

It'll take a fair while for the flavours to infuse properly, and you should expect to leave it three, four, or even six months before you strain off the fruit and begin sampling. Slurp!

Other Stuff

You might have noticed that this isn't one of those recipes that requires exact quantities and measurements. And that's half the fun of the process; just lumping together the ingredients and letting nature take its course.

I'm not religious, and even if I was, I wouldn't be religious about the leave-four-to-six-months-before-straining thing. Indeed, I often leave the fruit in whilst I take my drink, or even don't touch the gin for a whole year, until I need to empty out the jar for the next season's crop of sloeberries. This time I've got some pretty bottles for the decanting, though I'll probably have mislaid them by decanting time.

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