Saturday, February 13, 2010

Slow for Sloe: How to Make Your Own Sloe Gin

 "Gin and tonic, two limes” is a phrase I have requested casually, shouted across bars, and slurred. I love gin. The first mixture of gin and lime was aboard a naval ship when Doctor and Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette is reported to have mixed some gin with his daily ration of lime “ to help the medicine go down”.

Visiting the Plymouth Gin Distilleryhow could I not? - I saw a glass shelf proudly displaying row upon row of Sloe Gin. The ruby liquid, sparkling through the glass bottle, whispered my name and drew me closer.

Mesmerized, I asked what made this gin ‘sloe’. "Sloe gin," the tour guide replied, "is made from distilling gin with sloes." She described them as berries, bigger than junipers and then another woman added, " They taste like blackcurrent." I love blackcurrents! (I especially adore Ribena). Spirits writer, Jason Wilson describes sloe gin as having " a unique crisp and tangy taste (a balance of sweet and bitter that’s not cloying) and a faint, subtle finish of almonds.” The bitter almond aftertaste is from the sloe pits. I decided more research was required immediately.

Sloes (Prunus spinosa ) are bitter and astringent stone fruits, much less sweet than the other members of the plum family. Damson plums can be instead, resulting in a sweeter liqueur-type gin, if that is what you fancy.  I prefer my drinks with minimal sugar ( the benefit is that I can have a lot more of them, and feel great the following morning).

Picked from the blackthorn tree in late Autumn, sloes are gathered and weighed. One pound of sloes is needed to turn one bottle of gin into sloe gin. The sloes are pricked all over to allow the juice to easily steep into the gin. In a sterilized jar, 170g of caster sugar is poured over the pricked sloes, followed by one litre of gin. The jar is then sealed tightly, shaken up and left in a cool, dark place. The jar needs a good shaking every other day for a week and then once a week for three months. 

I imagine I would be tempted to try little sips along the way, but avoid the urge to stick a staw in to gulp it all up as it could contaminate and ruin everything. Instead, dip a metal spoon in boiling water to sterilize it, and without touching the inside of the jar with anything unsterilized, dip the spoon in and have a taste. No double dipping.

Garnet and ready to drink after three slow months of painful anticipation, the gin can now be called sloe. Although, if you do have some patience, wait two more months and the flavour will be perfectly rounded. Some people can wait one full year, but I know I wouldn’t be able to.

A woman sitting across from me at lunch yesterday made me tingle with eagerness when she said that after four months she strains her sloe gin into a bottle and then removes the pits from the remaining gin-soaked sloes and dips them in dark chocolate. Delicious.

Sadly, Canadians must order sloes online if the homemade version is what you are after. Some websites suggest eBay. 
Authenticity comes with a price. A number of gin drinkers worldwide claim Plymouth’s Sloe Gin is the best there is. They have used the same recipe since 1883, so I should think so. Canadians can order it online for  $93.62 from DrinkUpNY or from the Plymouth Gin Website for £17 ($26) plus shipping and handling.  Gordon’s also makes a beautiful, authentic sloe gin that I wouldn’t mind trying. 

What I do not recommend is McGuiness Sloe Gin. It is cheaper, lower quality, syrupy and sickly sweet sold at the LCBO for $18.95. (Unless of course you are having a reckless night of drinking everything and anything, including Alabama Slammers)

Wondering if I could still have my sloe gin with tonic, I was assured I could, or I could have something wonderful called a ‘Gin Fizz’

» 1 oz sloe gin
» 1 oz plain gin (I suggest Bombay Sapphire or Tanqueray 10)
» 3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
» 1 oz simple syrup
» 3 to 4 oz club soda
picture courtesy of Niagara  

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