Jonathan Curtoys

and Sloemotion Gin

The newest addition to our back bars is the steeped sloe gin of Sloemotion: a family run business that have recently relocated to Barton-le-Willows. Although the business is growing and production has been greatly increased, the values and integrity that matter to Managing Director Jonathan Curtoys continue to remain a prevalent feature of this exemplary company.

Sloe gin is a spirit with a rich and shameful history stretching back to the European colonial period when Britain began flexing its muscles both internally and abroad. Thousands of people were removed from their properties in the 18th century due to a need for more arable land as a result of increasing population. This land then needed to be enclosed and segmented to mark boundaries of ownership, preferably using a shrubbery with an inbuilt defence mechanism to protect the land from the very people that had been removed from it - namely, the blackthorn.

The fruit of the blackthorn is of course the sloe berry, and the swift movement of enclosure meant that there was an abundance of the fruit available to be picked by the displaced populous, keen to get one over on the ruling elite that had removed them from their homes.

“I remember my first taste round about when I was 11 in my father’s store room.”

Jonathan Curtoys

Furthermore, the slave trade was in full swing and bringing in copious amounts of cheap sugar to the UK. Combine this with the heavy importation-tax that was imposed on imported spirits, forcing people to home-brew what we now know as gin, and chequered history of colonial Britain conspires to bring together the ingredients of sloe gin.

It’s a past that Jonathan Curtoys, Managing Director of Sloemotion Ltd, is very much aware of. As far as he is concerned, the age old tradition bound up in the history of sloe gin are something to be respected and maintained, “we all love the hedgerow now and complain when they’re taken out, but back then they were incredibly divisive. Sloe gin has its roots and its heart in the countryside and it feels almost like a rite of passage to make sloe gin here” he explains.

Jonathan himself has fond memories of the liquor from his childhood: “I remember my first taste round about when I was 11 in my father’s store room.”

“When the sloes were finished steeping in the gin, rather than throwing them away he’d de-stone them and drop them into some homemade dark chocolate. With the sloes having soaked up the sweet flavours of the gin and sugar it contrasts really well with the bitterness of the chocolate.”

Before Sloemotion existed, Jonathan himself had worked as a lobbyist for the RSPB and as an agricultural advisor working to help farming in the UK more sympathetic to wildlife. It was in 2001 when he met with one of his lobbying targets; an influential figure within UK agriculture who by chance had recently sold his business and bought a farm.

“We had no intention of making sloe gin in the beginning, let alone turning it into a business.”

Jonathan Curtoys

With Jonathan’s ideas around environmentally and economically sustainable farming and his new business partner’s investment they developed an entirely new farming system. The pair started by looking at the least profitable areas of farming with a ruthless eye and turning these areas over to wildlife. This happened “mostly around the edges of fields where the environment meets the crops and it becomes quite expensive to manage” Jonathan explains. By introducing this concept, the hedgerow no longer needed to be maintained and regularly cut back. The end result was an abundance of sloe berries, because as Jonathan explains “sloe berries themselves are, by definition a wild fruit and only grow naturally and unmanaged.

It was only because of the wildflower meadows that the sloes began to grow, we had no intention of making sloe gin in the beginning, let alone turning it into a business.” But this is exactly what happened and it couldn’t be a more perfect fit in terms of Jonathan’s environment ethics, due to the nature of the fruit lending itself favourably toward wildlife conservation.

It was in 2006 when Jonathan made the decision to buy out his partners and truly apply his attentions to the production of sloe gin and with initial success, received investment from his next-door neighbour James Cundall and friend James Fenwick; allowing the business to move up to the next level. Today, even with a wide roster of products, the process remains as beautifully simple as it is traditional “We simply have bigger jars” he jests; but it’s true, the sloes are picked by hand and steeped in the gin in large vats for 20-30 weeks before being lightly filtered, bottled and hand labelled.

This is what truly makes Sloemotion unique, it’s made in the same way that it was made back in the 18th century and as Jonathan points out: “I’ve experimented quite a bit but what we’ve learned is that the most important thing you can do is use high quality ingredients. Just like baking or cooking, the quality of what goes in plays a massive role in the product you get at the end of it”. This is why Sloemotion decided to turn to Thames Distillers in Clapham, the last true gin distillery in London, to provide them with the gin that they steep their sloes in.

Staying true to their roots, very little is wasted maintaining the country tradition of using the sloes in their delicious chocolates and chutneys

“We actually even experimented with the stones, feeding them to the pigs was one thing we tried because they naturally digest them, unfortunately they had a tremendous hangover!”

Jonathan Curtoys

The Sloemotion No.7 is the latest creation in a long line of well recognised products which has its eye firmly fixed on summer months. The nature of their sloe gin, sloe whisky and other products is such that they are traditionally more popular in the winter. Although this works well and Jonathan is loves the seasonality of the drink, the No.7 is looking to fill this seasonal gap. The idea of creating a summer drink using a similar steeping process was conceived at Sloemotion in 2011, “we wanted something completely different, delicious and high quality.” By moving a little further down the hedgerow and incorporating elderflower and a bold Yorkshire ingredient: rhubarb, they have created something unique that works perfectly when mixed with fruit, ice and lemonade.

The future for Sloemotion looks incredibly bright and we’re proud to stock their liqueurs behind our bars. So why not try a traditionally steeped sloe whisky? Or perhaps something a little different in the form of Jonathan’s personal favourite, a champagne and sloe port?! LB