Sloe-ly does it to win

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Blue-black sloe berries on bushes at East Guldeford

Rye News is holding a sloe gin challenge to decide who makes the best locally. The competition will be judged in January 2015 – testing out both the best 2014 brews as well as vintage brews. The competition will include sections for home-brewed wines, cordials and champagnes.

Sloe gin is a red liqueur made with gin and sloe berries or drupes, small fruit related to the plum. The gin has an alcohol content of between 15% and 30% by volume. The berries are found on the blackthorn shrub (Prunus spinosa). Interestingly blackthorn is a hermaphrodite, with both male and female reproductive parts found in the same flower.

White flowers appear on short stalks before the leaves in March and April, either singularly or in pairs. Once pollinated by insects, the flowers develop into blue-black fruits measuring 1.5cm across. Blackthorn is a spiny and densely branched shrub. Mature trees can grow to a height of around 6m – 7m, and live for up to 100 years. The dark brown bark is smooth, and its twigs form straight side shoots which develop into thorns. The slightly wrinkled leaves are oval, toothed, pointed at the tip and tapered at the base. Blackthorns are mainly found in hedgerows, quite often along the roadside.

Making sloe gin is slow but not laborious. There’s no cooking required, just patience as the sloes steep in the gin.

Ingredients:

450g/1lb sloes

225g/8oz caster sugar

1litre/1¾ pint gin

Preparation:

  1. Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle and put them in a large sterilised jar.
  2. Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal the jar tightly and shake well.
  3. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake the jar every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for at least two months.
  4. Strain the sloe gin through muslin into a sterilised bottle

As you can see this is not really a recipe, more a loose set of instructions, and the nice thing about sloe gin is that it lends itself to improvisation. For example you can freeze the sloes and hit them with a hammer instead of pricking them, or add a few blackberries or blueberries.

Sloe gin myths: wait until the first frost before picking them (that’s if we have a frost in September/October) – no, pick them when they are ripe. Prick your sloes with a thorn from the same bush – no, the thorn gets blunted after the first pricking. Prick the sloes with a silver pin – no, just use a clean common or garden one.

Making sloe gin is easy and of course there is a nice reward at the end of the process. More details about the competition will be published in Rye News in due course. In the meantime if you want to see how our in-house foraging expert and gin connoisseur Timberlina goes about it watch this YouTube clip.