[Photos above were for baseline colour to monitor infusion progress throughout the year.]
Sloe gin manufacture is a test of patience every step of the way…tests I generally fail. For instance, this year’s batch was started at Halloween 2012 for use over Thanksgiving and Christmas this year but I couldn’t wait any longer and filtered it at the end of September. At least there was a lot of it and it would last till Thanksgiving, right? Well, erm, there is about 150 mL left that I promised workmates as a taster; shit.
The other test of self-control I generally fail revolves around the harvest. Traditionally, the sloes stay on the bush until the first frost which has a couple of practical benefits: they become sweeter with time (and they need all the help they can get), they shrink a little thus concentrating the other flavours, and in a hard frost the skins will burst so you don’t have to poke holes in them. Mild autumnal weather these last several years has meant the first frost has been well into October and I have just gone around tradition and picked in September (when, traditionally, there would already have been frost) then stored the berries in the freezer a few days.
This year, though, I did it. On Sunday the 10th of November 2013 with the first frost on the ground and crippling muscle spasms in my back, glutes and hamstrings I made my way up Brimble Hill to several caches I scoped out in September. Brimble Hill is one of my regular running routes as out-and-back from the house gives me two reasonably steep climbs (and descents) over about 6½ miles; on route there, I’ve been watching with distress the sloes fall of their own weight since the end of Summer. At last, the time was here so I downed a couple of Ibuprofen-and-Codeine tablets chased with a couple of shots of bourbon, did what little stretching I could manage before the drugs settled in, and grabbed a bucket to fill.
There were several stashes I intended to deplete all centred on the Burderop Forest at the top of the hill. The idea was to get some that received morning sun, some with evening sun, some with an all-day Southern face, and some from down the thickly wooded trail. It went well at first with my east facing batch near an abandoned block of flats adjacent to an old military hospital. This camp has a long history starting before the First World War and that seemed to finish, from local accounts, as a US military mental institution. I have heard colourful stories from folks that used to work there: one favourable at the bottom of the post linked here, and another not so much in the comments of this post, linked here, but the much more interesting and compelling history might be found at the site, here, maintained by the Swindon Borough Council.
The all South-facing bushes exist along the uphill side of the road near the bus stop which, sadly, does not run on Sunday (and on this one, neither did I). The hill, a muddy mess from some logging trucks and the torrential rains the last couple of weeks, provided its share of fruit to the pot, too; but, the Western-facing bushes — along a sheep field at the bottom of the route — were completely stripped save for a dozen or so stray sloes deep in the thorns. Those over-eager bastards!
The frost was mild, but at least it was a frost. To finish the job I stored them in the freezer for most of the week before buying four liters of the cheapest gin I could find and starting the batch. To complement the location, I included a few large handfuls of nuts in each jug.
I wasn’t sure what to call it when it comes out. We’ve already had Devil’s Punchbowl (after its location of origin) and Monstrous Erection (after its location of origin). I was thinking it should be something to do with post-traumatic stress disorder (the mental hospital angle) or Remembrance Day and poppies (since they were gathered at a WWI training camp on Remembrance Sunday).
Then it hit me like a freight train (there used to be a rail depot up here): Two Cures. One jug has a jalepeño in it (Texas Medicine) and the other is just Railroad Gin. That’s what will make people just get uglier a year from now…a FULL year, this round.
Or, earlier. It’s hard to say, for sure…I have no sense of time.