Sunday, 23 September 2012

Time for sloe gin

Sloe gin is a wonderful festive drink that is very warming and literally tastes of the hedgerow. A tot of this crimson liqueur will warm your cockles when you slump into the sofa after a cold evening in the woods, and it’s a great snifter to offer to dinner guests.
You’ll find sloes in any overgrown stretch of hedgerow that contains blackthorn. The fruit is round, waxy-skinned, and dark purple/black in colour. You’re unlikely to confuse sloes with anything else, apart from damsons, which are bigger but make an equally nice brew.
Sloes are hard and very bitter before they reach full ripeness so leave them until they become plump and juicy for the best results - they're usually juicier after they've had a touch of frost.
This year's sloe crop is dour in my part of the world - luckily, I had three pounds of damsons left in the freezer from last autumn.

You will need
(adjust amounts to suit taste and depending on total volume required)
1lb sloes or damsons
1 litre of gin
6oz of sugar
Freezer bags
Screw-top bottle/s

Begin by rinsing the sloes in a colander under a running tap. The berries then need to be split to let the juice run out. This was traditionally done with a long thorn from a blackthorn bush but pricking them in this way, or even with a knife, is a total waste of time. The best way to split sloes is to put them in a plastic bag and leave them in the freezer overnight. Expansion caused by the freezing process bursts the skin of the sloes and leaves them oozing juice when defrosted.
Transfer frozen sloes from the freezer bag into a screw-top bottle and tip the sugar on top – this is easiest with a funnel. Pour in the gin (using the funnel again) and seal the cap. Some people like to add a drop or two of vanilla essence at this stage but I think it overpowers the natural flavour of the sloes.
Next, give the brew a good shake to mix all the ingredients and store it away in a cool, dark place. Give the mixture a quick shake every day for the first week to help the sugar dissolve and then give it a weekly slosh thereafter to help it blend. The sugary solution will draw the juice, colour and flavour from the sloes, producing a delicious, warming, syrupy liqueur.
I usually decant mine on Christmas Eve, running it through muslin cloth or a clean tea towel to filer off any sediment. I'll explain in more detail nearer the time.

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