Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn bush, a mini relative of the plum growing throughout the british countryside and urban areas (avoid fruits growing near busy roads, nasty fumes). use a good illustrated guide to help identify. The best season for picking is late september/early october. some people say to pick after the first frost as this softens the fruit and skins making it easier for the flavors to mix with the gin. the problem with this is that the fruit will spoil within a week or so and you need to be able to go pick with short notice. picking the soft fruits is fine, just prick them with fork after washing in clean water and removing twigs and leaves. if a few maggots have been found whilst washing, leave the sloes in a bowl of water and the maggots should float to the top. Blackthorn bushes have large, sharp thorns so you may want to wear gloves. I used a crooked stick to gently pull out of reach branches down as this is where you'll find a lot of fruit, just out of reach!
- Sloe gin does require gin. It isn't a cheap moonshine gin alternative. the ratio is 1 pound of sloes to 1 litre of gin to half a pound of sugar with a few drops of almond essence.
It isn't worth buying good quality brand name gin as sloe gin doesn't retain any gin flavours, super cheap bargain bin stuff will do fine. You could try using honey instead of sugar though I have never tried it.
After washing, put the sloes into a suitable bottle (sterilized), demi jons are fine with the gin and sugar and almond essence. place in stopper and shake to mix contents.
Swill the contents around every day to help the sugar to dissolve. After 6 weeks, taste to check sweetness. add more sugar if needed. It should be ready in 8-12 weeks, just it time for crimbo.