Q  – I want to make my own homemade sloe gin but I am not sure what the fruit is like, where to find it and how to go about making the gin – can you help me please?

A – In early autumn when country hedges yield their bounty you will spot lots of small dusky blue fruits growing on the blackthorn bushes. These are called sloe berries and are a relative of the plum, but they are best known for producing that wonderful English drink – sloe gin. Once processed and ready for consumption, sloe gin can have alcohol content between 15 and 30 percent. In particular it is a highly popular and traditional beverage  favoured by country sportsman who use it to fill up hip flasks on cold winter mornings. Adding sugar and sloe berries to gin produces the red-coloured syrupy, sweet sloe gin liqueur with its unique almond-flavoured taste.

This comes  from the infusion of fermented berries and to make this happen sloe berries must be properly ripe to infuse the gin with their unique aromatic taste, also if the gin is to become its almost ruby red colour the berries should be picked at their ultimate stage of ripeness. When decanting homemade sloe gin correctly, the alcohol should take on an almond flavour.

To make homemade sloe gin, you need at least a pound of fresh sloe berries, caster sugar and gin which are then all added to a large jar before tightly sealing the lid. Once gathered the sloe berries need pricking – sometimes with a thorn from the blackthorn bush itself – before placing it in the jar, which will then need to sit for a few months to let the flavours steep. Traditionally, the berries used to make the sloe gin can be used again to add flavour to jams or liqueur-filled chocolates.
 
Recipe For Sloe Gin
450g/1lb sloes
225g/8oz caster sugar
1 litre/1¾ pint gin

Prick the tough skin of the sloes all over with a clean needle, or thorn, and put in a large sterilised jar. Next add the sugar and the gin, seal tightly and shake well. This mixture should then be stored in a cool, dark place and shaken every other day for a week, then shake it once a week for about two months. Once the sloe gin has turned to a rich dark red colour it is ready to drink.