Sloe gin shortage forecast for Christmas 2017

16th November, 2016 by Kristiane Sherry

The Woodland Trust Scotland is predicting a sloe gin shortage for the 2017 festive season following a “disastrous” harvest this year.

The 2016 sloe harvest has been "disastrous". Image: Evelyn Simak

The 2016 sloe harvest has been “disastrous”. Image: Evelyn Simak

Sloes are usually harvested from the blackthorn tree in October and then steeped in spirit for around three months to produce sloe gin.

Each year, The Woodland Trust asks thousands of nature recorders to check their local trees to get an indication of the annual harvest. The trees are graded on a scale: no fruit – meagre – moderate – good crop – exceptional.

According to George Anderson from The Woodland Trust, the average response so far is falling just above ‘meagre’.

The culprit is a fungus called Taphrina pruni that causes a condition known as ‘pocket plum’. This leads to distorted fruit forming on plums, damsons, and sloes. It prevents stones from forming and the fruit never ripens.

“It is possible that weather conditions early in the year may have given the fungus a boost in 2016,” Anderson explained. “Cold and damp conditions when the trees are in blossom allow it to take hold.

“It is now clear that 2016 has been a disastrous year for one of our most highly prized wild harvests.

“I forage around Edinburgh and East Lothian myself and I would say the sloe harvest is over 80% down on usual.”

Smaller producers who locally source their sloes are likely to be most affected, as larger suppliers will buy in the ingredient – often in syrup form – from abroad.

“Warner Edwards sloe gin production hasn’t been affected as we are using last year’s crop of sloe berries for this year’s sloe gin,” said Tom Warner, founder, Warner Edwards gin. “Our recent sloe berry crop has not been impacted so next year’s sloe gin production will continue as normal.

“An additional reason for the shortage over the festive period could be that sloe gin is becoming a more popular drink, transitioning from a niche product to a more mainstream one, with demand continuing to increase. Previously, commercially-made sloe gin would have been mass produced, but craft gin producers have focused on making a better products, thus bringing more people to the category.”

Meanwhile a Chivas Brothers spokesperson said: “We can confirm that this year’s sloe harvest has had no impact on our Plymouth Sloe Gin production.”

It is not thought the sloe gin supply for Christmas 2016 will be affected as sloes typically require a months-long steeping process for a quality outcome.

Earlier this year three UK food and drink companies banded together to create what they claim to be the “world’s first” sloe gin truffle ice cream.

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