There appears to be the same number of ways of making Sloe Gin, as there are people making it. It certainly seems to be one of those things where pretty much anything goes, with most instructions featuring a healthy dose of myth and nonsense.
I thought about making some last year, and even collected some sloes, but just never quite got round to buying any gin. I’d chatted extensively with Ed from the Bacchanalia, about what gin to use and we came to the conclusion that it should be Tanqueray London Dry, which just so happens to be what my father in law uses.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t justify the cost of a couple of bottles of Tanqueray, when I could get a 1.5 litre bottle of Sainsbury’s own label for less money. Sainsbury’s appear to do four different types of gin, Basics (£10 for 70cl), Dry London Gin (clear bottle, £11.50 for 70cl or £22.50 for 1.5L), Green bottle Dry London Gin (£14 for 70cl) and finally Taste the Difference (£16.50 for 70cl), but the clear bottle Dry London Gin was the only one in the large 1.5 Litre size. To be honest though, I could have gone to Aldi and bought a couple of bottles of their Silver Medal winning gin for even less, which I may do next year.
Sloes aren’t the only thing you can soak in your gin and since I’ve never done this before, I quite fancied making a Damson Gin too. I can get tons of sloes locally, but I was a bit stuck for damsons, until I noticed some while out scrumping. I think I’d left it a bit late, as there was only a few left on the tree and I wasn’t sure they’d be enough.
Fully prepared with sloes, damsons and a big bottle of gin, I decided that rather than chucking everything together with a load of sugar, I’d try and be a bit more scientific. Mainly as that’s how I am, but also so, if it’s any good, I’ll be wanting to try and reproduce it next year. So the first thing I did was pop the sloes and damsons into the freezer for a couple of days.
There are so many conflicting instructions about how to make your sloe or damson gin on the internet. Plus myths like having to wait for the first frost before picking the fruit, or having to pricking each berry with a fork or pin, are repeated everywhere. If you wait for the first frost, the chances are the birds will have already eaten most of the sloes and there certainly won’t be any damsons left.
The whole reasons for the first frost thing, is so that the fruit has frozen and then thawed. This has the effect of breaking down the cell walls of the flesh and splitting the outer skin, which can be replicated very easily by popping the fruit into your freezer for a couple of days. You should pick your fruit when it’s ripe, not when the weather randomly decides to provide you with a freezing cold night.
The whole freezing thing means that you don’t have to do the pricking thing either. I honestly couldn’t imagine having to prick each individual sloe with a fork, pin or spike from a Blackthorn bush; it would be beyond tedious.
Most recipes online just say, fill the jar half full, which is a total cop out. One persons half full, it anothers three fifths and what not, so I decided to weigh mine. I’d bought a couple of 1 litre Kilner jars and filled each roughly half way, then emptied the fruit out and weighed it. The half a jar of frozen sloes weighed 350g, while the damsons weighed 365g. This means that if I’m not happy with the intensity of the fruit flavour, I can either use slightly more, or less fruit and know that from weight, rather than from trying to remember what a roughly half filled jar looks like.
The final issue is how much sugar to add. Fruit is a seasonal thing and thus various from season to season, which means that the sugar content of sloes and damsons will be slightly different each year. Why would you then add exactly the same amount of sugar each year? You may need more or less than previous years, depending on what this years crop of fruit is like. So I’m with Sipsmith on this one, leave the sugar out, until you come to bottle it up, then you can add exactly the right amount, so I didn’t add any.
I managed to fit in 700ml of gin to each Kilner jar, with not a lot of head space left over. I gave it a shake a couple of times a day for the first few days and now it get shaken when I remember. It took a few days for the colour to start to change, but as you can see from the photo, they’ve both taken on a lovely reddish hue.
Even though I’m not a gin drinker, I’m really quite looking forward to trying these. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to age them, as evidently it’s supposed to get better after a few years. I’ll update the blog once I’ve added the sugar.