One of the greatest things about the arrival of Autumn is the fact that UK hedgerows are full of ripe, juicy sloe (prunellier) berries and if you’re on the ball, you can some wonderful fruity liqueur ready in time for Christmas. The question is, have you ever tried it? I don’t mean drinking it, I mean making the stuff. Don’t like gin? No problem. Slow vodka is becoming increasingly popular and for good reason. It just tastes great. Sloe vodka and sloe gin are made in exactly the same way, and it’s so very easy and cheap to make, you’ll wonder why you’ve never did it before. You’ll also be pleased as (sloe vodka) punch that you did.
But vodka? Well, you can of course make sloe gin and mighty fine it is too, but to expand your repertoire (and your winter drinks cabinet) why not try vodka? The purer flavour combination of vodka and sloes without the taste of juniper and other botanical flavourings present in gin brings a whole new taste experience, not to mention opportunities for cocktail making (should you be so bold). If you’ve never made sloe infused liqueur before, you’re in for a surprise at how easy it to achieve a premium tasting liqueur, all with minimal effort. Once you’ve created your fine elixir, you can even gift it to friends and loved ones in whatever bottle (or even jar) you see fit. There are plenty of places in the UK to buy bottles for spirits, so you have a number of choices in this regard.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; the first thing you need to do is pick your sloes. If you don’t know how to recognise them, sloes are the small dark purple berries of the blackthorn tree or hedge – they look like tiny little plums with a distinguishing white ‘bloom’ on the skin. They taste very, very bitter raw so don’t be tempted to taste them straight off the branch. Also, avoid picking below knee height as dog walkers have probably frequented the lanes where wild sloes grow, if you understand me. I think you know what I’m inferring! You will need to pick enough to half fill a 2-litre jar, but don’t be too greedy – leave them some for the next person! Next, clean the berries in water and discard bits of stem and leaf. Leave them to drain dry in a colander or dry them carefully on a tea towel.
– 2 litre preserving bottle or jar
– Weighing scales
– 1 litre bottle of gin or vodka (cheap is fine!)
– 450 grams of sloes
-250 grams of white sugar (to both sweeten the liqueur and also extract the maximum amount of juice from the berries)
1. A few days before you’re ready to start put the sloes in a plastic bag and place them in a freezer. This will break the skins.
2. Let the sloes defrost before using.
3. Put the sloes, sugar and gin or vodka into the preserving bottle and seal.
4. Give the contents a thorough shake.
5. Shake the bottle every other day for a month.
6. Shake once a week for the second month.
7. When you’re ready to drink (see below) strain clear the liquid into the 1 litre sterilised gin or vodka bottle.
8. Add more sugar if necessary, according to taste (trial and error in this regard, I’m afraid!)
9. The liqueur can be drunk from month three onward, though it will improve with age.
The left-over sloes can be used to make jam, should you be inclined. Go forth, forage, and create! And most of all, enjoy responsibly.