Time to gin up your pricking

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The Rye News Home Brew Sloe Gin Competition will be judged in the New Year (January, when a precise date will be announced), when the best 2015 brew and vintage brews will be tasted and selected. So it’s now time to harvest your sloes. There is a good crop of sloes this year, mainly found in the hedgerows.

The old country saying is that a good crop means that we can expect a hard winter, and sloe gin is the ideal drink for a cold winter evening, as well as being a good Christmas tipple. Sloe gin is a red liqueur flavoured with sloe (blackthorn) drupes – a smaller relative of the plum – and is normally made with an alcohol content of between 15% and 30% by volume.

It is made by infusing gin with the bitter-tasting drupes, using sugar to extract the juices from the fruit. Last year’s Rye News competition winner was Kenneth (but more likely Margaret) Bird. Entries should be in a glass container containing at least 150ml of sloe gin/spirit for judging (more if possible, so we all can have a taste) and must be homemade. No shop bought entries will be eligible for consideration for the competition, but could be sampled to compare them with the home-brew. And there are two categories, 2015 sloe gin, and vintage sloe gin, made before 2015.

There will also a spirit based tipple category (to avoid any judges going home sober), which could include blackberry whisky, elderberry liqueur, raspberry gin, damson gin and elderflower gin.

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

Suggested ingredients:
  • 450g/1lb sloes
  • 225g/8oz caster sugar
  • 1 litre/1¾ pint gin
Preparation method
  1. Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle and put in a large sterilised jar.
  2. Pour in the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well.
  3. Store in a cool, dark cupboard and shake 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

This is not really a recipe, more just a loose set of instructions, as the nice thing about sloe gin is that it lends itself to improvisation. Freezing the sloes, then hitting them with a hammer for example, instead of pricking them. And some people add a few blackberries or blueberries.