We managed to catch the last of the sloes from the hedges this year. It was a challenge, but they were perfectly ripe, and we found enough to make a good batch of Sloe Gin. Next year I will be checking the bushes a little earlier, around beginning October, and pick as they become ripe.
There are all sorts of rumors and myths around the methods of making Sloe Gin, but with a few tips you can make it perfectly every time.
Tip 1: Don’t add Sugar at the Start
Most recipes call for the sugar to be added at the start – don’t do it! The sugar inhibits the juices and flavour being extracted from the berries by osmosis, and it’s nearly impossible to balance the sweetness of the sugar, with the tartness of the sloes at the beginning.
Once the Gin is infused, a simple syrup is the best way to mix the sugar in, and can be made by combining equal parts of sugar and water over a low heat. When the sugar’s dissolved, wait for it to cool before adding to the infused Gin. Add the syrup very slowly, and stir before tasting as you go, until it reaches your desired sweetness.
Tip 2: Freeze the Sloes
You don’t need to spend hours pricking the fruit with a pin, or even waiting for the first frost – pick the fruit when it’s ripe, and soft to squeeze like a plum, then pop them in the freezer overnight. These processes all aim to burst the skin and allow the flavour to infuse into the liquor – freezing is much quicker and easier.
Tip 3: Use Good Quality Gin
Sloes don’t mask the flavour of poor Gin, but rather enhance its character – a good Gin will taste better, and a bad Gin taste worse!
Tip 4: Add a Crushed Almond (Optional)
A crushed almond enhances the marzipan notes in the Sloe Gin, a technique found in 19th century recipes. Though I haven’t tried this before, I’ve heard it can turn an average Sloe Gin into a fantastic one, so I’m adding it to this year’s batch.
How to Make the Best Sloe Gin
- Pick sloes when they’re fully ripe
- Wash and freeze overnight
- Fill a wide necked jar half full of sloes and top up with Gin (with optional crushed almond)
- Steep for 3 months
- Strain out the sloes through muslin, saving the liquid
- Add sugar as simple syrup, adjusting sweetness to taste
- Bottle and enjoy
If you pick your sloes in October then you should be able to sample the first of your Sloe Gin around Christmas time. Don’t waste the alcohol soaked fruit either, there’s plenty of ways you can use them, like making sloe chocolates, or even sloe Port.