Sloe gin

Sloe gin

Sloe gin is a red coloured liqueur flavoured with sloe berries, the fruit of the blackthorn, a relative of the plum. Sloe gin has an alcohol content between 15 to 30 percent by volume (30-60 proof).

The traditional way of making sloe gin is to infuse gin with the berries. Sugar is required to ensure that the sloe juices are extracted from the fruit. Almond flavoring may be added.

Most commercial sloe gins today are made by flavoring the less expensive neutral grain spirits and produce a fruit cordial effect. The most popular commercial brands of sloe gin are Plymouth and Gordon's. Hawkers also produce a Sloe Gin, the only manufacturer to do so with a Royal Warrant.

How sloe gin is made

Sloe Gin is also known as Sloe or Schlehen Wine and in old colonial communities, simply as SOS wine. Vodka can also be used instead of Gin. Once made it is difficult to tell the difference. Low quality Gin or Vodka can be used as it is only the alcohol content, not the flavour of the spirit, that is required. What is important is the quality of berries used and the recipe. Old SOS wine recipes are still to be found.

To make sloe gin, the sloe berries must be ripe. They were traditionally picked in late October or early November after the first frost of winter, although with spring now arriving earlier followed by warmer summers, the berries are now ripe by mid-September. A wide-necked jar that can be sealed is needed. Each berry is pricked, and the wide necked jar is filled half way with the pricked berries. Folklore has it that when making sloe gin, you shouldn't prick the berries with a metal fork, unless it is made of silver. The established traditional method is to prick the berries with a thorn taken from the blackthorn bush on which they grow.

For each pint (0.5 litre) of sloes, 4oz (100g) of sugar is used, then the jar is filled with gin, adding a few cloves and a small stick of cinnamon, as well as the almond essence. The jar is sealed and turned several times to mix, then stored in a cool, dark place. It is turned every day for the first two weeks, then each week, until at least three months have passed.

The gin will now be a deep ruby red. The liqueur is poured off and the berries and spices discarded. Alternatively, the left-over berries can be infused in cider, made into jam, used as a basis for a chutney or made into liqueur chocolates. The liqueur can be filtered, but it is best decanted back into clean containers and left to stand for another week. Careful decanting can then ensure that almost all sediment is eliminated, leaving a clear liqueur.

Made in this way, the alcohol extracts an almond-like essence from the sloes, avoiding the need to add almond essence. Home made sloe gin is a much more complex and subtle drink than that produced commercially. The sweetness can be adjusted to taste at the end, but sufficient sugar is required at the start of the process to ensure full extraction of flavour from the sloes.

In a diary entry dated 22 August 1938, George Orwell pasted a newspaper clipping of a recipe for sloe-gin purportedly from "New Forest gypsies."

Related liqueurs

In Germany and other German speaking countries, a very similar liqueur is called Schlehenfeuer (literally: sloe fire), but in the English speaking world, Schlehenfeuer is generally considered German sloe gin. Schlehenfeuer has an alcohol content of about 38 percent by volume (76 proof) and this higher alcohol content is also the most important difference between Schlehenfeuer and other sloe gins. However, Schlehenfeuer and other types of Schlehenlikör (The German generic term for sloe gin) are sometimes made with vodka or rum. The most popular commercial brand of Schlehenfeuer, based on white rum, is made by Mast-Jägermeister AG, better known for its product Jägermeister.

In Spain, Patxaran is made by soaking sloe berries in an anise-flavoured spirit, resulting in a light reddish-brown sweet liquid, around 25-30% alcohol by volume.


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