Sloe Gin

Autumn is here, and as the nights start closing in it's time to lay down supplies for the long winter months! One of the great winter pleasures when you're huddled inside in the warm is home-made Sloe gin.

Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn tree, and a small relative of the plum. The blackthorn is aptly named for the thorny nature of the shrub, and the very dark bark. You'll often find it making up part of the hedgerow, or growing near the edge of a field. Sloes are easily confused with wild plums, which ripen slightly earlier. Sloes have shorter stems, are nearly spherical, and tasted raw are sharp, astringent and particularly disgusting! Take a taste - if it's delicious, then it's a wild plum, if your mouth turns inside out then you've found the sloe bush!

The countryside around Rye is brimming with sloes and this year is primed to yield a good crop. Wait until after the first frost to pick your sloes - handy if the first frost coincides with the ripening of the fruit, however with the vagaries of the British weather this can't be guaranteed. Sloes need to be ripe, like small soft plums, before picking. If the frost has not come, then freeze the sloes overnight before use, to mimic the effects of frost. Freezing also allows the skins to rupture evenly, avoiding the need to prick the fruit, and allows the flavour to seep out into the gin.

A common mistake is to use cheap gin. Far from masking bad gin, sloes can in fact highlight the lack of quality, so use the best gin you can afford to produce a really prime liqueur. Alternatively cast around the back of the drinks' cabinet for those forgotten bottles of grappa, brandy or other spirits that you brought back from holiday or were gifted, and never quite tasted the same back home! Sloes can be added to a variety of spirits to make wonderful liqueurs.

Simply find a clean bottle or jar, almost half-fill it with washed sloes (straight from the freezer) and top up with gin. Seal, and wait at least two months to macerate - three or more if you have the patience - turning occasionally helps distribute the colour. There's no limit to how long you can leave it - the longer the better and more smooth the result.

Whilst some people believe in adding sugar at the start, the sweetness of the sloes can vary enormously season to season, so better to add only a little sugar at the start, and sweeten to taste at the end of the process a few days before you are ready to drink. Using sugar syrup (3 parts sugar/two parts water warmed to dissolve the sugar, then cooled) avoids having to wait for the sugar to dissolve. Strain out the sloes and any sediment and enjoy responsibly! Experiment with the addition of cinnamon, cloves or almonds.

Remember, Sloe gin needs at least two months to mature, so make yours now and you could be sipping it by Christmas!

Book an autumn stay at the Flackley Ash Hotel in the heart of the East Sussex countryside, as your base for sloe-picking walks through the rolling countryside, then reward yourself for your efforts by enjoying our spa, and sampling the delights from our tasty menus in our in-house restaurant. Call 01797 230651.