Sloe gin

**UPDATE** For pictures of the finished gin, pictures of a sloe bush, tips on finding a sloe bush and drinks recipes, click here.

This is, apparently, the hottest autumn on record in the UK. Things are definitely not behaving like they usually do outdoors; the leaves are staying on the trees, the apples and pears came ready early, and there are shoots in the garden which shouldn’t be there until next year. Most importantly for the hedgerow foragers among you, the sloes (the fruit of the blackthorn plant – see this post for pictures of the bush) were early, and there has been no frost.

This recipe is much more successful if you pick and use the sloes after they’ve been subject to a good hard frost. Since Mother Nature was not prepared to provide me with one, I turned to Mother Miele, and bunged a box of them in the freezer in September.

Raw sloes are bitter and astringent, and this drink needs a lot of sugar to balance them and result in a syrupy, deep pink liqueur. Gin is used as the traditional base, and I love the combination of the juniper and the plummy sloes, but you can use vodka or another clear spirit.

No cooking is involved. Each of the sloes is pricked all over once defrosted (you can embed some needles in a cork to speed this up) and steeped in sugar and gin – for every pound of sloes I use 8 oz of caster sugar and 1 3/4 pints of gin. The gin doesn’t have to be a particularly fancy one; I just used Waitrose’s own brand London Gin. For gin and tonic I usually use Hendrick’s, a far more complicated (and expensive) gin, whose aromatics include rosepetals and cucumber. Steeping sloes in gin was historically used as a way to disguise tainted gin, so it doesn’t make much sense to use your most expensive gin in this recipe.

I’m using a glass Rumtopf (a German pot for making liqueur fruits, usually made from porcelain) to steep the sloes. Although many recipes say you can stir the mixture regularly and then strain the berries out and make a start on drinking after two months, the gin is much more delicious if you can manage to restrain yourself and not stir it, and then leave it steeping for at least six months before you strain and bottle.

The rumtopf is not completely airtight, so I create a seal with some cling film. (You can use any large container you have for this; my parents use a jar which spends the other half of the year as a storage vessel for rice.) The sugar you can see here will gradually dissolve over the months ahead, and the bright, syrupy juices will leach out of the pricked sloes and combine with the sweetened gin. (For those of you who can’t wait six months, Gordon’s started selling sloe gin pre-bottled last year. It’s not as good as the home-made stuff, but it should keep you pretty happy until summer.)

There’s a quarter bottle of neat gin left over. Thankfully, I have prepositioned some tonic water and limes. I’m in for a pleasant evening contemplating my rumtopf.

20 Replies to “Sloe gin”

  1. I have been told (by a reliable sloe gin maker) you can cut the steeping time to a month with the same results if you freeze the sloes and drop them frozen into the gin.

    The freezing helps break down the cell structure and allows them to infuse much quicker

  2. I wouldn't recommend a month's steeping – the gin will be nice, but it's a lot better if left longer (it's worth keeping some back from a previous year if you try it to sample the difference). Gordon's pre-bottled sloe gin has a relatively short steep time, and it's a pale imitation of gin that you've aged for longer.

  3. Hi, I used 1 Kg sloes to 500gm caster sugar to 2 ltr cheap Lidl supermarket gin. I froze the fruit for a few days, thawed and placed them into a strong plastic bag, assaulted well with a blunt instrument (rolling pin) and placed everything into a large screw-top jar. 'Jiggled' twice a week for about four months, before decanting into sealable bottles. Left for another six months, and I ended up with something that looked like vintage port, but tasted like nectar! I haven't found anyone who did like it!

  4. I picked some sloes today and it looks like I am too early :(. My reasoning was that as we have Blackberries which are ready now in West Sussex, so perhaps the Sloe may be! They taste very bitter …… shall I chuck them away then? 🙁

    Anyhow, I have made a lovely Blackberry and Apple Crumble ………….

  5. Give it a shot, tooearlytoo – there’s no harm in trying, and if they’re already good and juicy, they could well be fine. Let me know how it goes in a few months’ time!

  6. Yikes! I have now come to the conclusion that half of my picked sloes (yes I found some!) are in fact wild damsons! lol

    Going to bung them both in together and make a kind of hybrid sloe/damson gin… think it’ll matter???

  7. Hi, i picked about 5 kilos of the biggest, ripest, sloes i’ve had the pleasure to find in years. On one side of the field they were about 2 weeks off, but luckily on the other side (which has the sun – when we get it, for most of the day) they were dropping off – now have two demijons started, one plain and one with almond essence.

    1.8kg Sloes
    3 Ltrs Cheap Gin
    750gms Granulated sugar

    the other,
    1.6kg Sloes
    3 Ltrs Gin
    650gms Granulated sugar
    20 drops Almond essence

    just trialing recipes. The rest of the sloes are freezing now ready for a 3rd demi in a month or so’s time.

    roll on xmas and bottling/tasting – Happy days to come 🙂

  8. I am a sloe gin virgin but have found loads of bushes while out walking the dogs. So I have got 2 x 2litre PET bottles with gin and 2 with vodka in to the above recipe.
    I also have “experimented” with a kilner jar but in this jar I have used the above recipe but have blended the sloes in a smoothie maker with the gin and you want to see the colour it looks like a jar of blood just ready for halloween.
    I am hoping that this will perhaps make a quicker batch, but it is purely experimental. I am also hoping as some sites / people seem to say that this will taste a bit more almond like as the stones will have been exposed from day one.Watch this space LOL.

  9. just racked off a brew here in Tasamania where I came across a blackthorn copse How the hell it got here beggars description. Howsomever as we don’t really have frosts, I picked them ripe, stuck the plums in the freezer for a couple of days, defrosted, attacked them with a rolling pin and put them and sugar in a large jar with gin etc and sealed off for 4 months.
    Racking really does help to get the smoothest finish. A wee taste has not helped – got to give it until Xmas. it is really magnificent

    1. That’s absolutely remarkable, Rod – I’d love to know how your copse got there too! Perhaps the Canadian reader who posted earlier can take heart from this – blackthorn bushes seem to be surprisingly widely dispersed.

  10. Now into second annual brew with additional orders!! Must have been early settlers who had sloe stones caught up in their belongings and/stock etc which seeded. I recall that cottagers around Suffolk and Essex used to colour their whitewash with mashed up sloes to turn the whitewash pink. With this mixture they would paint their house walls. there was some other fruit that gave a blue but I remember it not!

  11. For those who like their gin sloe. After a good freeze in the freezer take them,defrost and mash them up by hand. This seems to expose a greater volume of flesh than by rolling pin method. This years batch is certainly smoother with a greater depth of taste, lingering longer than previous years. Its quite a sexy tactile experience too! I have also grown on some sloe plants from stones. No real problems there, just dropped some stones/pips into decent soil and away they went. A greengage nearby helps to pollinate, there is some form of symbotic relationship there tho I think other plum trees may have the same effect BUT I am not sure which types

Leave a Reply to Gray Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *