Founded in 2002, SLOEmotion is a family business, owned and run by Jonathan Curtoys and his wife Claire. Now, they make a range of products at their premises in North Yorkshire, ranging from sloe gin and jellies to cherry brandy and damson chutney.
Having grown up making sloe gin with his father, Jonathan created the business as part of a farm diversification project, combining wild fruit pickefrom the hedgerows with family recipes to produce his traditional products.
The sloe – a tiny, bitter relative of the damson – grows wild in hedgerows across Britain, and Jonathan likes to use British fruit wherever possible, employing a dedicated team of pickers across several counties. The fruit, which grows on blackthorn bushes, a key constituent of British hedgerows, starts to ripen from September and can only be picked by hand.
“We’re making it worth the local farmer’s while to manage their hedges in a way that favours wildlife. It’s a win for all parties,” says Jonathan.
“If you’ve never made your own sloe gin, I’d absolutely encourage you to have a go – gathering the fruit is a healthy, happy activity, and the results are delicious!”
Jonathan’s products have now won a range of awards, including several gold stars in the Great Taste Awards.
Here, Jonathan talks us through his manufacturing method.
Gather the sloes. Traditionally, pickers would wait for the first frost of the year to pick the fruit, as this would split the skins and release the flavour. Nowadays, it’s fine to harvest them earlier and put them in the freezer for a few days, which will have the same effect.
The sloes are placed into tanks, along with the sugar and gin. Using these large commercial tanks, Jonathan can make around 400 litres per batch, and the company makes around 60 batches a year. The tanks are stirred once a day to make sure the fruit distribution is even.
Wait for the sloe gin to mature. This can vary a little, depending on the ambient air temperature – the warmer it is, the quicker the reaction happens, but the process generally takes around 24 – 26 weeks. The longer it’s left, the weaker it will be, as more alcohol is absorbed by the fruit. Jonathan’s product must have a standard commercial rating of 26% proof.
Testing. At the end of the waiting period, Jonathan draws off a little of the drink for testing. After many years in the business, he can now make an educated guess at whether it’s ready or not just by colour and flavour, but it’s also sent for alcohol analysis to get a commercial rating.
Filtering. The liquid is filtered as little as possible, to retain the maximum flavour. The used fruit, now saturated with gin, is used to make the company’s award winning sloe gin chocolate truffles.
Labelling and bottling. Jonathan’s keen to use good quality ingredients to ensure an excellent product, and his gin comes from a small London distillery, where it’s manufactured to a traditional recipe.
The finished product.
For more details about SLOEmotion, or to see the company’s product range, visit www.sloemotion.com; prices start from £3.85. The company attend a number of food fairs and other events nationwide; see SLOEmotion Events for more information.
By Sara Walker