A British traditional legend gives birth to a brand new Bulgarian ambrosia that is destined to provide the basis of the tastiest summer cocktails ever!
Traditional British Sloe Gin
Sloe Gin is a quintessentially British pleasure – a gin liqueur with a delicious richness, and a deep, tart, fruity flavour. But how did it come to be? Sloe gin owes its existence to three British historical events, that took place in the name of progress – what we now call globalisation - in the early 18th Century. Gin took off in a big way when the government put a heavy duty on imported spirits and allowed unlicensed gin production. At the same time the slave trade was in full swing, with British merchants forcing Africans to work on sugar plantations in the West Indies to produce cheaper and cheaper sugar. And between 1750-1860, when Britain had an ever-increasing population to feed, thousands of people were kicked off common land, so it could be cultivated. Previously open fields had to be ‘enclosed’ and so thousands of bushes were needed to mark their boundaries – preferably bushes like blackthorn, with an inbuilt thorny defense. The fruit of the blackthorn is the sloe, and so suddenly there was an abundance of these tart little fruits. The innovative English combined the unpalatable gin, with the abundant and cheap sugar and the tart berries for which there was pretty much no other use – and thus was Sloe Gin born
The ritual of making and drinking sloe gin today
Sloe gin is a liqueur, with sloe berries steeped in quality gin, with a little sugar, typically bottled just after the first frosts of autumn and stored in a cool, dark place until its ruby-red colour shines clear. It is traditionally filtered from its berries in early December, enabling it to be ready for first drinking as a ‘digestif’ at Christmas time, creating a smooth, sweet taste with a contrasting tart balance.
Sloe Gin in Bulgaria
For many years Barbara Page-Roberts, a British businesswoman living in Bulgaria, had been gathering sloes (‘trunki’) initially from the hedgerows south of Pleven, and turning them into sloe gin, mainly as Christmas gifts for her friends. In 2015 she became acquainted with the agribusiness company Agrotime, (www.agrotime.com) in the Ludogorie region of Bulgaria, where sloes are abundant and flavourful. At the same time, she discovered that Agrotime in their fruit orchards near Isperih, grew a large number of Dogwood trees which produce cornels (‘drenki’) another tart fruit, much redder in colour than the sloes, and she asked if she could experiment with making ‘Drenki gin’ as well as Trunki gin. It was a huge success, especially for cocktails in summer.
As part of its continuing diversification and value-added mission, Agrotime, in 2017, joined forces with Barbara Page-Roberts to make the first commercial batch of Rustic Reserve brand gin liqueurs, which are now available in limited edition on the Bulgarian market, both sloe (trunki) gin liqueur, made from hand-picked wild sloes from around Isperih, and cornel (drenki) liqueur, made with cornels from Agrotime’s orchards.