All you need to look like an expert craft distiller is some ok alcohol and a short trip down a country lane. This year’s sloes are looking mighty fine, which is great news for anyone keen on adding tangy zing to their winter G & Ts.
What’s keeping you? Head to your nearest country lane (Image Interiors & Living Editor Amanda Kavanagh scored one and a half kilos last weekend) and look for the thorny bushes laden with plump, round berries which look almost exactly like blueberries. They grow singly, not in clusters.
Hard liquor can be prepared now, ready for seasonal parties ahead, and the old favourite is sloe gin. Sloes are bitter, hard fruits but paired with sugar and gin some kind of alchemy takes place and the result is beyond delicious.
To make an infusion all you need is the fruit or herbs, sugar and a white spirit (buy the cheap own-brand variety), and a Kilner jar. Start saving nice glass bottles for decanting and sterilise in boiling water before use. Wash the fruit and prick each one with a needle before adding it to a jar with sugar – the more sugar the sweeter, more alcoholic and liqueur-like the end result will be. Shake each day for about a week and then leave in a dark cupboard for six weeks or more before decanting. You can use shop-bought fruit and spices where necessary.
By following the same process but swapping the spirit and/or the fruit, you can make a variety of delicious libations. Strawberry and raspberry vodka are incredibly good, gooseberry and elderflower gin is very refreshing with soda water. Citrus fruits make very good liqueurs – try grapefruit and ginger gin or cranberry and orange vodka for an unusual flavour.
Add spicy seeds of alexanders (also found on any hedgerow) to white rum and seasonal spices such as cinnamon, star anise, cloves, allspice and orange peel for a heady festive drink that’s a welcome alternative to mulled wine.
These tipples are delicious on their own or diluted with sparkling water, or our favourite – Pellegrino Limonata – to make a lighter refreshing drink. Alternatively, go all out and make delicious Champagne cocktails, using the sloe gin as you would in Creme de Cassis for kir.