Sloe gin recipe: the master’s secrets
So you want to make your own home-made sloe gin? To help you on your way, Nico reveals his little secrets.
Three basic ingredients:
gin, sloes and sugar*…
*But so many other things to consider that the search for the right balance and the perfect sloe gin can last a lifetime.
When should you pick sloes?
Everyone will tell you to pick them before the first frosts of winter or to put them in the freezer. In actual fact, the best time to pick them is before the birds do! The later you leave it, the more sugar they will contain and the less bitter they will taste. Freezing the fruit alters its internal fibres and releases the juice more quickly during maceration, but is not essential.
What’s the best gin to use?
To make our sloe gin, we created a balanced craft gin expressly designed to marry with the sloes. We recommend you use a gin you can buy in the shops. Choose something that won’t overpower the sloes, a gin whose botanicals will combine well with the fruit, like a citrus gin. And don’t forget the age-old principle that you get what you pay for. Buy a low-quality gin and you’ll end up with a low-quality liqueur.
What proportion of gin to sloes?
We fill our containers up to nearly 40% capacity with sloes and then top them up with gin. It all depends on the amount of fruit you want to have at the end or how long you’re prepared to wait. Google around and you’ll find some very clear sloe gins and some very dark ones too. It’s just a question of taste.
You can use any kind of sugar really. No two sloe gin recipes are the same, though our advice is to start off by using a fine sugar. Other sugars have extra flavour, which makes it tricky to judge how things are going to turn out.
How do you add sugar?
You can use granulated sugar or sugar syrup. They both work in exactly the same way. It just depends on how much alcohol you want in your sloe gin. If you find that the alcohol content drops during maceration, add granulated sugar and shake the jar once a day until it dissolves completely. If you find the alcohol content too high, make a sugar syrup with enough water to bring the alcohol content down to the level you want. Adding water inevitably dilutes the taste of the sloes, so you need to exercise caution here too.
Most recipes will tell you to pour a certain amount of sugar into the jar at the start of the maceration process. That’s not a great idea, though. First and foremost, sugar has no impact whatsoever on the quality of maceration and serves no purpose at all at this stage. Secondly, how can you possibly know how much sugar you need to strike the right balance of alcohol, bitterness and fruit before maceration has even started?
So don’t add sugar at the start. Wait until you’ve filtered your sloe mixture. Start by adding small amounts (80 or 100g per litre) and add more later if need be. Don’t forget that you can always add sugar but you can’t take it away.
How long does maceration take?
Traditionalists say that sloes should go into the jar with the first frosts of winter, in October, and should be tasted at Christmas. In our view, maceration should stop when the fruit is removed, but before the bitterness takes hold. It’s all about identifying that pivotal moment. It’s only with experience (and regular tasting) that you find out how long the maceration process should ideally last. Maral is macerated for around a year, but your sloe gin should take on a nice hue and bouquet after only three or four months.
What about filtering?
We use muslin cloth folded four times over to filter our sloe gin. It takes out most but not all of the particles. For flawless filtering, you’ll need to use coffee filters, and quite a few of them too.
You can macerate your sloes again for a few months in vodka or red or white wine (be sure to add a little alcohol to stop them fermenting) to make sloe vodka or aperitif wine. We had fun making jams and jellies but we weren’t exactly convinced by the results. Making a sloe tart is worth a try too, but pitting sloes is an even harder task than picking them.