Better be quick! The time for sloe gin is now

This ever-popular tipple was not always so widely loved. It was once thought to be a cheap substitute for port as consumed by the less salubrious inhabitants of London, but the beginning of the twentieth century brought it back into fashion. Sloe gin now features everywhere from high-end cocktail bars to cider festivals, local pubs to family gatherings, and above all, at Christmas.

Everyone has their own sloe recipe, a special technique for turning, ideas on how long to store it and most importantly, a secret stash of blackthorn which they are reluctant to share. The good news is that outside of cities – blackthorn bushes (which are to be treated with respect owing to the nasty spines) are a very common hedgerow feature, so you shouldn’t have to search too far. If in doubt, the coast path often contains stretches of the stuff, or ask a local.

Here at Curio Spirits, we’ve got our own ideas and advice on making the perfect sloe gin. But there’s no time like the present if you want to get it ready for Christmas.

  • Use the best quality gin you possibly can, we think our Rock Samphire Gin adds a beautiful botanical depth. Sounds like a waste of money as it’ll only be sweetened with sugar and fruit, but a good gin will enhance the flavour of your sloes.
  • Add your sugar at the end. The natural sweetness and flavour of the sloes will emerge more distinctly and you can control the level of sweetness you want as this can vary owing to a range of factors, but most especially the sweetness of the fruit in the first place.
  • Pick your sloes when they’re nice and ripe. Normally this is October / November but this year they seem to be ready earlier owing to, well, a lack of sunshine and lower temperatures (don’t we know it). If they ‘pop’ when you squeeze them between finger and thumb they’re ready, just make sure they’re not rock hard.
  • Leave your flavoured gin for as long as possible. The bare minimum is two months but it will only improve with time – up to a year or more and the taste just gets better. If you make a few batches, you can have a variety of vintages.
  • Give the sloes a good going over with a fork, but even easier, just chuck into the freezer over night and the effect is the same, as the skins will split, releasing the flavour.
  • Consider adding a crushed almond to enhance the marzipan taste of the stones. This was traditionally done by crushing a few sloe stones, but almonds are a lot softer.
  • Don’t agonise too much over quantities. Yes, there are an abundance of recipes out there but whatever you are filling, from bottle to Kilner jar, make it just over half full with fruit then cover with your gin.
  • Turn or invert at least once every one or two days to get those juices flowing.
  • Add your sugar at the end and make it a sugar syrup rather than crystals as you won’t have to wait for it to dissolve. Melt equal parts sugar with water in a pan, cool and pour in just before drinking.
  • Be patient! Sloe gin is not difficult to make but you do need to channel your inner Buddha and take it real slow. Just wait and the magic will happen.