May 11th, 2007

Devil, incubus, gentleman, martini, scoundrel

Blackthorne Sloe Gin recipes

Blackthorn Sloe Gin {recipe 1}

The Sloe, or Blackthorn, is a wild ancestor of the plum. The bushes grow in hedgerows all over the country, bearing blue-black, marble-sized fruits which develop a light blue, powdery bloom in dry conditions. It's often said that you should pick them after the first frost, but early September is the best time; later in the year you'll be lucky to find any left, and the all-important sharpness which makes this drink special will have diminished (if you bite into a raw sloe you'll appreciate why they don't tend to be eaten by humans). Incidentally, don't be put off if you dislike the taste of gin, because it's completely transformed in this drink.

Pick 13⁄4 lbs (800g) to infuse with 1 bottle (700ml) of gin to make 1 litre of liqueur. Depending on their size, this equates to 350-550 sloes, but I always take a small spring-balance with me to check the weight. Another useful accessory is a long pole with a hook at the end to pull down the higher branches. Watch out for the long, very sharp spikes which are the plant's first line of defence!

[Ingredients and kit]

Buy the strongest gin you can, at least 40% abv, preferably a bit more ("export strength"). You'll also need 10oz (280g) granulated sugar and 2 clean, dry 700ml bottles with screw tops (e.g. old gin bottles). There's probably no need to wash the sloes, but if you do then make sure you dry them thoroughly. The secret of making this, as with any liqueur, is to keep the the alcohol content as high as you can - weak gin and/or wet sloes are bad news.

Put 5oz (140g) sugar into each of the empty bottles then divide the gin equally between them. A plastic funnel and kitchen scales ease these tasks. Then you are ready to process the sloes, which means piercing the skin of each one as it goes into the bottle, so that the gin can get in and the juice out. For this rather lengthy job, sit down with a skewer and some good company or background music. You'll soon fall into an easy rhythm of picking up 2 sloes, stabbing them with the skewer, and dropping one into each bottle. Stop when the level of the displaced gin has nearly reached the top of the bottles, then screw on the caps.

Now all you have to do is keep the bottles in a dark place, agitating and up-ending them daily; the sugar will slowly dissolve as the gin starts to leach the colour out of the fruit skins. Once the sugar has vanished just give them an occasional shake during the next 3 months or so. The colour will deepen through various shades of pink to a dark maroon, and the sloes will shrink to the size of raisins.

Now you're ready to decant the liqueur off the remains of the sloes. This is easy if you pour it off into a new bottle through a tea strainer held above your trusty plastic funnel.

Finally, reward yourself for your patience. Sloe Gin is especially good after a large, rich meal when it has great palate-cleansing properties! I prefer this drink young, but if you do keep it for a year or more its flavour will mellow, becoming less sprightly and more nutty/plummy, while the colour veers from ruby to tawny.

[The end result...]

What to do with the spent sloes? They make nice alcoholic "nibbles" just as they are, but for a special treat try making some sloejacks.

Flapjacks to make as a by-product of sloe gin

These fruity flapjacks make a delicious snack on their own, or better still as a natural partner to the liqueur itself.

You can safely leave the drained sloes in their (capped) bottles for a week or two, making this recipe an ideal activity for the recovery phase after Solstice!


* Half the leftover sloes, i.e. the contents of one bottle (approx. 300g drained weight) after making sloe gin.
* 125g porridge oats.
* 100g unsalted butter (if using salted butter, omit the next item).
* 1⁄4 tsp salt.
* 75g sugar.


Shake the sloes from the bottle into a large bowl, and tip the oats into another. Using a paring knife, shave the flesh from each fruit directly into the oats (avoid the temptation to remove it all in one long piece, as that would make the flapjacks break apart too easily). It will take a while, but you've already proved you have the necessary patience by making the liqueur! Stir the mixture every so often to disperse the parings evenly. At the end you'll have a small pile of stones to dispose of - thrifty souls could try the idea below!

Preheat the oven to 180°C, Gas Mark 4. Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the sugar and salt, then (off the heat) the sloe and oat mixture. Tip into a lightly greased, shallow, 20 cm square baking tin, level out and press down firmly all over with a potato masher. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and leave in the tin until cold. Slice into 16 squares, or as the whim takes you.

Blackthorn Sloe Gin {recipe 2}


* sloes (as many as you can find - 1lb will make a good bottle of gin).
* granulated sugar, to taste.
* gin.


1. Gather your sloes from blackthorn hedgerows after the first frosts - in any case before the end of November. They are incredibly astringent, so do not be tempted to eat them.

2. Wash the sloes and prick them all over with a pin. Alternatively pop them in a freezer overnight to split the skins.

3. Put all the sloes into a large jar that you will be able to seal tightly - an old sweet jar or large Kilner jar is best.

3. Cover your sloes with gin and add 1-2oz sugar per pint. I prefer it dry and use 1oz - don't forget you can always add more to taste when you have finished.

4. Seal your jar and leave for two to three months, shaking the jar gently every few days to help dissolve the sugar.

5. When you are ready to drink it, strain the sloes from the gin and pour into clean bottles, popping a few sloes into each for effect. The leftover sloes are a welcome addition to game stews.

Sloe Gin Fizz
1 shot sloe gin
Sour mix
Splash of soda water
Garnish: Cherry
Shake sloe gin, sour mix and ice. Add soda water. Garnish.

Sloe gin is a red colored liqueur flavored with sloe berries, the fruit of the blackthorn, a relative of the plum.

[Sloe Gin Recipes]