Saturday, 3 October 2009

My First Brewday – Blackberry Wine – Part 1

Hot off the back of making Sloe Gin, I started to get into brewing proper. Sloe Gin is just a long cocktail. Whereas making blackberry wine is going to be a bona fide attempt at homebrew.

My first dilemma was the recipe to use. My friend who gave me a fermenting bucket sent me this recipe. It’s a good recipe, I’m sure it works fine. While pondering this, I joined The Homebrew Forum. A brilliant place to read up on and ask questions about anything to do with home brewing. It is there my eyes were opened to many, many different Country Wine recipes.  So after reading their recipes, and asking a few questions, I settled on the following recipe:

  1. 850g Blackberries
  2. 1 Litre apple juice
  3. 750g Sugar
  4. Pectolase
  5. Yeast nutrient
  6. Red wine yeast

Note about the sugar – I have since found out that I should have probably added double the sugar. This will be rectified by adding syrup (750g sugar in water) to the demijohns before adding the strained juice.

So, having crushed the blackberries in the bucket, I added 1 gallon of boiling water and stirred. I then added the apple juice. While all this was going on, I melted my sugar in 2 litres of water to make a syrup which was added to the mixture. Add sterilised water (I boiled a large pot of water for 15 minutes covered and left to cool overnight) to bring the mixture up to 2 gallons (about 10 litres).

Finally add on crushed campden tablet to kill off any unwanted yeasts in the mixture . Cover and leave  overnight.

The next day mix in your pectolase to so that the pectin in the fruit gets broken down ready for the yeast. Cover again and leave for 24 hours.

The next day is when the yeast gets added. From then on it will no longer be glorified blackberry juice.

First of all sterilise everything. You then need to take the temperature of the liquid as well as the starting gravity.  This is not entirely necessary, but will help with determining the final alcohol content of your wine. My blackberry juice had a temperature of 19 degrees Celsius and a starting gravity of 1.040. 

All that needs to be done once you have taken those reading is to add the yeast, cover, and place somewhere to ferment for five days. Mine is on top of the fridge, in a bin bag in case the yeast gets a bit overzealous.


Make sure you give the whole thing a stir every day (some say twice a day). Nothing vigorous, just enough to push the yeast cap into the juice.

That’s is the end of part 1. Part two will be the straining of the pulp, and setting it to ferment in demijohns.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Sloe Gin Speakeasy

I wrote recently about my following a new blog called Blagger. Reading the blog has inspired me to broaden my skills in the kitchen. I already make a mean tomato chutney, and a decent loaf of bread. But what of brewing? What can I do when I am not on the lifelongpubrun? Blagger has posted about homemade beer, champagne, wine, and schnapps. So I thought I should give it a go….

My friend recently donated a fermentation bucket, and some sloe berries. A whole world of yeasty bubbliness has opened up to me! But before I run headlong into taking on Anheiser-Busch InBev or Magners, I need somewhere a little smaller to start. So with a spring in my step, I headed home last night to take my first foray into making Sloe Gin.

Sloe Gin is easy, most of the ingredients are mentioned in it title. Gin, Sloes, and some sugar. I used the BBC Food Recipe for this, but any will do.

Step 1 – Prepare Your Equipment

To make sloe gin you will need


450g/1lb sloes
225g/8oz caster sugar
1 litre/1¾ pint gin


1.5 litre bottle with lid
Sterilising powder

It is wise to sterilise the bottle and funnel before starting the mixing process to prevent any spoiling of your drink.

One tip I picked up from talking to friends and passers by about making gin is that the sloes should be frozen beforehand. Some of the other recipes on the internet suggest that freezing the berries simulates a frost and so makes a sweeter drink. My reason for freezing the berries is that it makes them easier to prick.

Step 2 – Ready the Sloes

With everything measured and clean, you will now need to prepare your sloes to mix with the gin. This involves pricking them to allow the sloe juice to seep into the gin.

As mentioned above, it was suggested to me that using frozen berries works best. Once you start on the pricking process (1lb of sloes took approximately 30 minutes to prick), you will be thankful. The firmness of the iced sloes means that there is no spurting of juice, or staining of hands/carpet/pet. I did find my fingers going numb at about halfway. I intermingled the pricking of the berries with the odd sip of beer… for medicinal purposes only, you understand.

As you prick each berry pop it into your bottle. It saves doing this later, and my funnel was no where wide enough at the bottom to let through the sloes.

Once you have finished with pricking the sloes, pour all of the sugar into the bottle. I used the funnel for this as it makes it easier. Don’t worry if any sugar sticks to the funnel as you will shortly be washing everything over with gin.

Step 3 – Mix Everything Together

Right! Now we’re ready to add the gin. You will now realise why you need a 1.5 litre bottle for 1 litre of gin. As mentioned above, you can use the gin to wash all the remaining sugar from the funnel into the bottle. I managed to get nearly all of the gin in there. Nearly. There was just enough left in the gin bottle for a quick drink to reward a job well done.

Put the lid on and you are now ready to mix all of the ingredients for the first time.

Step 4 – Shake, Rattle, & Store Your Sloe Gin

With all of the ingredients in the bottle, you need to give everything its first mixing. Shake the bottle until all of the sugar has dissolved. This only takes a couple of minutes. Already you should be able to see some purple colouring of the liquid. All that you need to do now is store your sloe gin in a cool dark place.

Depending on which recipe you are following, you now need to shake the mixture every day (or every other day) for two weeks. Then shake the mixture once a week for a month. Finally, give your sloe gin a mix every now and then.

The whole process including sterilisation took about an hour.

So, how long before being able to drink this? Most recipes call for a year of maturation, but you should be able to start tasting your sloe gin after about 3 months. Don’t plan on a great big session then as this stuff only gets better with age. Plan on a minimum of 6 months before really starting to dig in.

Further Reading

While you are waiting for your sloe gin to mature, you should check out everything sloe related from The Cottage Smallholder’s blog. Of particular interest is the article on Wild Damsen and Sloe Gin Recipes. At the bottom of the article are some Tips and Tricks. I particularly like the idea of re-using the sloes by adding medium sherry.