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Life in the sloe lane

Life in the sloe lane

Nikki Spencer - 2008-10-27

Jonathan Curtoys grew up drinking his father’s homemade sloe gin and now he’s turned an age-old hobby into an award-winning business run from a North Yorkshire farm.

For centuries sloe gin has been a traditional countryside tipple, made every autumn by collecting the small dark Blackthorn berries, steeping them in gin and sugar and then leaving them to mature. But, if Jonathan Curtoys has his way you will soon be as likely to find the rich ruby liqueur in a swanky West End cocktail bar as a cottage larder.
Last year Curtoy’s SLOEmotion sloe gin won the Taste of Britain gold award for best drink and he says the unique cherry-like notes from the sloes and the dryness from the gin make it a perfect cocktail ingredient.
"Most commonly sloe gin is drunk neat by country people to see them
through the winter nights but it’s also great for cocktails as it has a strong flavour and blends well with other things" enthuses Curtoys who adds that "you get a very warm glow as it goes down".
SLOEmotion, which Jonathan, 40, runs with his brother Julian, 43, now supplies over 150 delicatessens and farm shops all over the UK with sloe gin and other sloe based products. But, like a surprising number of good business ideas, it came about almost by accident.
SLOEgin (£14.95) and other Sloe products are available from www.sloemotion.com 0844 800 1911).
The company also regularly attends food fairs including the BBC’s Good Food Shows in London and Birmingham and the Country Living Christmas Fair.
Back in 2000 Jonathan, a former political lobbyist for an environmental charity, teamed up a friend who owned a 500-acre farm in North Yorkshire with the intention of creating a farming business that was both ethical and profitable. As part of the project they stopped cutting the hedgerows every year.
"Not only did we see a 40% increase in breeding birds and massive
increases in bees and butterflies but by the second autumn we began to notice large amounts of sloe berries", explains Jonathan.
"We had always made sloe gin on the farm as a hobby and now we had this huge free crop so we decided to make the most of it."
Not surprisingly given Jonathan’s background, SLOEmotion’s unique selling point is that they make their sloe gin just as people have always done only "we just use bigger tanks".
"We use whole wild sloes and no colourings or flavourings," explains
Jonathan. "And nothing is wasted. Generally people dispose of the sloes once the liqueur is ready but Jonathan realised that the gin-infused sloes could be made into other mouth watering products and the company’s Sloe Gin Chocolate Truffle, inspired by Jonathan’s father, was born. "My dad was a keen sloe gin maker who never threw anything away. He used to melt a bar of chocolate and put the sloes in it and I got the idea from him," explains Jonathan.
SLOEmotion also makes Sloe Whisky, Sloe Vodka and has just introduced Sloe Brandy to their product range, which also includes Sloe Chutney.
It’s a smart business move for a food and drink company to have a key ingredient that is freely available but such is the demand for SLOEmotion’s products that the company can no longer just rely on wild stock from the hedgerows and is now looking at the possibility of encouraging local farmers to grow sloes commercially as a crop. Which is all good news for Yorkshire¹s birds, bees and butterflies.
How to drink Sloe Gin
* Bloody Sloe - add acouple of handfuls of ice to a large jug and then add 200ml sloe gin,100ml of dry vermouth and about 500ml of blood orange juice or Sanguinello. Then take two limes and add the juice of one and roughly cut segments of the other and mix well.
* Pink Ginger - In a long glass add one third sloe gin to two thirds
traditional ginger beer and crushed ice. Add a generous squeeze of lime and place the spent fruit in the glass.
* Sloe Royale - Pour half a shot of sloe gin into a glass and top up with champagne or sparkling wine, sit back and enjoy.
* Or Jonathan recommends sloe gin as the perfect winter warmer on a country walk. Simply neat from a hip flask.

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