A traditional festive gift at this time of the year on my island, sloe gin made the previous year is commonly brought out of the darker dusty back cupboards for drinking with the neighbors. However, It really is about time that the 'traditional' sloe gin recipe was updated and dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Ever since the 1950's when sugar was a delicacy people have been throwing it into traditional sloe gin recipes in massive quantities causing a whole pandemic of heart and kidney related medical problems.
Now, using a water distiller, a juicer and a food processor we can make authentic sloe gin from the proper natural ingredients and tailor it to suit our own taste buds and finally relieve modern society from it's sugar addiction.
Additionally, with this amazing recipe we don't need to wait for the first frost for harvesting the berries, and most importantly, it can be ready to drink in as little as 4 days. Those dark spider infested back cupboards can be used for something else!
Sounds too good to be true? Confused? Here's a quick run down of the recipe:
- Produce your own alcohol using beetroot / marrow / sugar beet / sugar or a combination of these ingredients. (Yes, sugar can be used at this stage as it will be fermented so is not there in the final product).
- Process the berries by repetitively freezing and thawing.
- Liquidise the berries etc in the alcohol.
- Strain out the pulp.
- Blend with vanilla.
- Visit the neighbors with a festive treat.
- Organise a tasting session at home with friends.
- Have fun!
|Hazards:||..........||Explosive ethanol fumes. Methanol poisoning.|
The end result was an amazingly delicious sour tasting winter liqueur type spirit with masses of nutritional benefit in terms of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and none of the astringency associated with sloes.
Step 1: Legal
Distilling is illegal in many countries/states. Check your local laws.
Step 2: Health and Safety
- Methanol poisoning ....... Methanol is a product of the fermentation process and is present in all beers and ciders but must be carefully removed during the distillation process. Methanol can cause blindness, damage to the central nervous system and death. The vapour is also explosive.
- Ethanol explosive vapour ....... Make sure that your still is well ventilated and never use an open flame for heating. Electric stills often have an electrical thermostat that produces a spark every time it switches on or off which will ignite ethanol vapour in the right combination with air. Water distillers will switch at >100 degrees C by which time the ethanol should be gone.
- Always fill a water distiller exactly to the line marked - no higher or lower. If filled too low it will boil too quickly. Drink sensibly!
- Sulphides ........ Make sure there is some copper in the still. Make sure to use the correct receiver and that it is empty before use or you may get overspill and release of ethanol vapour.
- Hawthorn trees have very large sharp thorns so watch out for your eyes especially. Wear protective glasses.
Step 3: Equipment and Ingredients for 1 Litre of Product
- Stainless steel saucepan and steamer
- Juicing machine (The Sage Nutri Juicer™ is recommended)
- Water distiller (Smart Still)
- 1 Litre blender / food processor
- Baking tray
- Fine mesh straining bag
- 1 litre mason / kilner jar
- 3 litre mason / kilner jar
- 15mm copper pipe x 200mm long
- 4.5 litre demi-john
- Airlock and cork
- 500g fresh sloe berries
- 10 kg fresh beetroot or 5 kg marrows. The marrow option will need 1 kg sugar.
- 2 vanilla pods
- 5g beer yeast
NB. 1 kg beetroot gives 400ml juice with my juicer and no extra sugar is needed.
Step 4: Harvesting Sloes
Sloes can normally be harvested in November on my island, but they need to be ripe! If you squeeze the berries with your fingers they should be soft and plump and not too hard. With this recipe we do not need to wait until the first frost as sometimes the frost can be very late in the year and the sloes will be ruined by then. Also, if you wait too long, you will have a lot of competition from the birds. There is no special technique for picking - they are from the blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) which has sharp thorns to watch out for and there wont be many leaves on the trees at this time of year. Don't confuse sloe berries with deadly nightshade, which are a similar colour, but if they are on thorny trees you should be ok. The first two photos show blackthorn trees in flower in the spring - the honey bees go crazy for the nectar!
Step 5: Juicing and Primary Fermentation
Skip to step 7 if you want to use shop bought vodka or gin.
Clean and chop up the beetroot/marrows - no need to peel.Add this to the steamer and use about 100 ml water in the bottom. This way the sugars will be super concentrated. Now steam the roots for 1/2 an hour and transfer straight to the juicer whilst still warm. Discard the pulp and add the juice to the back to the pan together with the 100ml water remaining in the bottom. Raise the temperature to 75 degrees C to pasteurise the juice.
Allow to cool to 25 degrees C, measure the specific gravity with the hydrometer, add sugar to bring the OG up to about 1100, add to the sterilised demi-john, pitch in the yeast and leave in a warm place for about 30 days to ferment, with the airlock in place. Now rack off the bottom gunge and pour into the distiller up to the level mark, one demi-john at a time.
Step 6: Distillation
Cut up the 15mm copper pipe into sections about 10mm long and add about 200g of pipe sections to the still. This will remove the poisonous sulphides from the brew during the boiling/heating process
Allow the brew to clear or settle as much as possible, maybe use pectin to help, and pour some of it into the water distiller up to the line marked on the inside, but no higher or no lower. The distiller should come with a plastic reciever and a small plastic drum in which you can add activated carbon for purifying the alcohol if you want to. I'm afraid I lost mine somewhere! Turn on the distiller and wait for the first drops of alcohol to emerge - this may take about 1 hour as water distillers are fairly low power.
IMPORTANT: Collect the first 10ml or 1% and discard it as it will be high in methanol content and other undesirable chemicals.
Carry on distilling and periodically measure the alcohol concentration of the collected liquid. It will start off at about 60% and slowly become more and more dilute as the temperature in the distiller rises and more water vapour comes over. As soon as the concentration reaches 45%, turn off the electrics and collect the last few drops. If you don't have and hydrometers, you can do it by taste, which works fine as long as you are not too intoxicated.
This is the method that I developed for getting maximum flavour in the final product. I would not use any still other than a 'pot' still as some of the more 'elaborate' systems will just produce pure alcohol with little taste or flavour.
Step 7: Processing the Berries
After the berries have been picked they can be pasteurised by throwing into a pan of water at 75 degrees C for 3 minutes - this will kill most bacteria on the outside skin.
Now, before the berries are added to the alcohol, they need to go through some special treatment to remove the characteristic sloe astringency and stimulate enzymes to release natural sugars in the fruit. The first step is to put them in the freezer until thoroughly frozen. They are then removed and left at room temperature for 24 hours before putting back into the freezer once more. Don't ask me why this works as I don't know for sure, but I tried processing the berries direct from the tree and the astringency was truly awful! Now leave the berries for another 24 hours at room temperature and then taste a couple of them. They should have no nasty 'puckering in the mouth' sensation by this time. I used a baking tray for the freezing/thawing as it exposes the berries very nicely to the extremes of temperature - much quicker than putting them in a bag.
Assuming that your liquidiser holds one litre, add 500g of the sloes to the liquidiser and top up with the alcohol. Use the pulse setting to give the ingredients a quick spin, about 5 seconds, without ripping up the pips too much. Leave the concoction to infuse for 48 hours at room temperature in an airtight 1 litre mason / kilner jar.
Now put the straining bag inside the 3 litre mason jar and secure it half way down with a couple of rubber bands at the top. Fill the bag with the wet pulp, secure the lid to prevent air getting in, and watch in awe as the beautiful shining deep red liquid comes through into the bottom. There should be absolutely no cloudiness at all if you have followed this recipe carefully.
Step 8: Recycle the Pulp
It's not really possible to get all the flavour and alcohol out of the pulp, but it can be quite happily recycled by simply putting the pulp into the next batch of sugar beet or marrow fermentation. This way the nutrients will benefit the yeast and the alcohol can be salvaged when this batch is distilled.
Step 9: Blending
The final product is now a superb tasting spirit with a nice sour sloe taste, and nowhere near as sweet as the old 1950's recipe. I did try blending with juniper berries and cloves, but this was no good as they just over-powered the delicate sloe flavour. However, a couple of sliced vanilla pods worked a treat and helped take the edge off the sour taste quite a bit. The final product should be left at least a week before drinking as it takes a while for the full flavour to come out of the vanilla. There will also be some enzymes at work releasing the last of the sugars to produce a fantastically nutritious drink.