Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Journey through Gins lesser known relatives (Part 2: Sloe Gin)

Sloe Gin is another classic British creation that is not widely consumed because most countries lack the vital ingredient that gives this Gin variety its characteristic flavour. This ingredient is of-course the Sloe Berry.

Sloe Berries grow on the Blackthorn plant and are not commonly mass cultivated but are often found in local hedgerows throughout the British country side. Sloes harbour an extremely bitter/astringent and unpleasant flavour. However the crafty Brits found a great use for them in Sloe Gin.

How is it made
Because the berries mostly grow wild there are limited numbers of commercially available Sloe Gins and these tend to be seasonal products. Sloe Gin is more of a traditional homemade beverage.

At its most basic creating Sloe Gin simply involves soaking your Sloes in Gin, however because Sloe Gin creation is an activity widely participated in all over Britain by Ma and Pa there is much debate on the processes involved. I will attempt to summarise some of this below.

The first and most important thing is to make sure your Sloes are ripe this can be found simply by squeezing the berries if they are hard and rock like keep waiting if they are soft then get picking.
Next you want to put the Sloes in a freezer bag and freeze them for a day or 2. Many people recommend pricking each berry with a thorn from the blackthorn tree or a silver fork. Simply put all you are doing here is exposing the soft flesh of the berry and freezing the berries is an easy way to get the skin to rupture ready for the next step.

Find a good sized Glass Jar and half fill this with Sloe Berries follow up with a good quality Gin, the point of a Sloe Gin is a pairing of the flavours of the Sloe berries and your chosen Gin if you don’t like the flavour of the Gin you put in then you aren’t going to enjoy your resulting Sloe gin creation.
At this stage it is common to add sugar to extract the flavours of the Sloes but this seems redundant to me as the alcohol/water mix of the gin is what will be extracting the flavours. This also allows more control over the level of sweetness you want to achieve for the finished product.
Now you can go ahead and leave your Sloe creation in a cool dark place for a few months you will see the liquid colour increase in intensity over time.
Finally filter out the liquid and add a sugar syrup solution (50/50 water/sugar) to your own tastes and it is ready to drink.

Because of the tanins in the Sloes your Sloe Gin will continue to change with age so if you are patient it would pay to leave a few bottles to the side and see how these taste after 2-5 years of cellaring in a cool dark place.

The History

Sloe Gin came about at some point during the late 1700s early 1800s when the plants themselves were planted en masse.
The reason for the planting is another shameful part of British History, as you can see there seems to be a bit of a trend forming here with Gin!
In 1750-1860 thousands of people were kicked of common land which was given to the ruling elite in order for them to create crops to feed the rapidly expanding British population, or in other words they were given land so they could profit of the poor. This Land was previously open fields so thousands of bushes were needed to mark the edges of these new fields and what better than to use the Blackthorn with its inbuilt defence mechanism to keep the poor people who’s land and homes had been taken from returning.

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