Come autumn, the blackthorn trees are teeming with berries, which could only mean one thing: it’s time to start making sloe gin. Similar in appearance to blueberries but larger in size, a fruitful bounty of sloe berries can be used to make a seriously tasty and refreshing tipple, perfect for the onslaught of chilly autumnal nights. But instead of opting for the cheat’s method and ordering in your sloes, why not throw on your wellies and hit the meadows and woodlands near Acorn Inn to pick your very own. Here we reveal all you need to know about how to make sloe gin.
Time to get picking
As Dorset has plenty of lush green meadows and woodlands you’ll be in a prime spot to access an abundant supply of sloe berries during your stay. The optimum time to venture out and start picking sloes is after the first frosts, which usually occurs in mid-October. But be warned: picking sloes can be a prickly (and sometimes painful) task, so make sure you have some adequate gardening gloves to hand before getting stuck in.
Luckily the pretty surrounds nearby Acorn Inn provide access to plenty of sights with a gold mine of fruits available. Dorset Wildlife Trust operates the Kingcombe Meadow Reserve; the vast surrounds of meadows and woodlands are ripe for exploring and popular among avid foragers. If you do want to go a bit further afield then make your way down towards the Purbeck coastline. Along the scenic cliffs there are numerous hedgerows where you can pick sloes to your heart’s content. Alternatively, head for Holme for Gardens, located in the Purbeck Hills — this garden centre with a difference includes pick your own fruit gardens and orchards, as well as a farm shop selling all manner of appetising local produce.
How to make sloe gin: the dos and don’ts
The key to really nailing a great sloe gin is all down to the ratio of the ingredients. There are two main methods to making your sloe gin. The first is simply adding the sloes, gin, and a small amount of sugar directly into an airtight, sterile jar and leaving the mixture to work its magic.
The second is slightly more complex and requires making a simple syrup, using equal parts water and sugar and stirred over a low heat until all the sugar dissolves. Mix the gin, syrup and sloes in a very large Mason jar or glass bottle (make sure you sterilise your jars too — putting them in the dishwasher on a high heat should do the trick). If, at the end of the process, you find your gin isn’t quite as sweet as you like you can always add a small portion of simple syrup to make last-minute adjustments.
Most importantly: don’t be stingy with the fruit. In order to achieve a full-bodied sloe gin, ensure your bottle is at least half filled with berries. Don’t be tempted to skimp on the spirit either – the secret to a great batch is opting for a superior quality gin. Using less than the best will only highlight its inferior taste, and nobody wants a bad tasting sloe gin, do they?
Don’t fret if the berries you pick are a little hard – a tip is to freeze them, which will simulate the first frosts and help soften their skins, ensuring you get all the juicy flavours you need to make your sloe gin taste irresistibly good. If you’re short on time you can also delicately prick the fruit with a sharp knife, which will have the same effect.
In both methods, once everything is mixed it’s just a case of playing the waiting game. Most recipes suggest three months as an adequate time to let the sloe fruits steep in the mixture, but the longer you leave it the more the fruits will impart their flavour. Lastly, remember to give the mixture a regular shake: every day for the first week or so, and then less frequently the longer the mixture is left to stew. In just a few months’ time, you’ll be able to pour yourself a delightful glass of your very own sloe gin.
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