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Sloe gin – finding your own sloes

Sloe gin

Sloe gin

Last year’s sloe gin has been steeping for ten months now – it’s time to decant. I found these pretty bottles at Lakeland (where they’re marketed especially for sloe gin), and filled four of them from last year’s Rumtopf.

I’ll be able to start collecting sloes, hopefully, some time next month. A quick recap – pick sloes after the first frost, prick them all over with a needle and for every pound of sloes you collect, pour over 8 oz of caster sugar and 1 ¾ pints of gin, then seal. You can leave the gin for as little as two months to steep, agitating the container occasionally, but the longer you leave it, the smoother the results will be.

Sloes

Sloes

I’ve had a few emails asking what a sloe bush looks like and where to find one, so I went down to the woods today (no big surprises) and took some pictures. The sloe is the fruit of the blackthorn bush, and you’ll often find them making up part of a hedgerow, or growing near the edge of a field. If you don’t live in the countryside, don’t despair – blackthorn can be found in scrubby land in towns, and is often planted in parks. Most of England’s public footpaths will have at least one sloe bush on its route, and a very pleasant afternoon can be spent foraging the hedgerows for a carrier-bag full.

Sloes, clustered on branch

Sloes, clustered on branch (this was a particularly heavily fruiting bush)

The blackthorn bush grows to between 3 and 13 feet tall. If you have sharp eyes, you can identify the bush in the spring by its froth of white flowers and remember where it is for later in the year. Although the fruits here look purple and delicious, they’re not ready yet (September 1) – you really need to pick them after a frost, which gives them time to ripen, softens their astringency and makes them easier to prick. If, as happened last year, the frosts just aren’t happening, pick in November and put them in the freezer.

Damsons

These ones are damsons, a wild plum. They'll make a great gin too (and they're edible raw, unlike sloes), but aren't the same fruit.

The sloes are nearly spherical and grow close to the branch. A raw sloe is a particularly disgusting beast – it’s sharp and astringent. It will make your tongue shrivel and your teeth squeak. These purple fruits are not sloes (compare with the picture above) – they’re wild plums, which ripen earlier, have longer stems, are soft to the touch and are sweetly delicious. If in doubt, have a nibble. Both fruits will have stones. If it’s delicious, it’s a plum. If it’s like sucking a fruity deodorant stick, it’s a sloe. The gin takes on all the fruit’s best characteristics, and none of the astringency.

Sloe gin is deliciously versatile. Try pepping up unremarkable Cava with a splash, drink it neat, use it in a martini or add some to mulled wine. I’ll be making another batch next month…until then, cheers!

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245 comments to Sloe gin – finding your own sloes

  • Karen

    Hi

    Has anyone found any Sloes in Greater Manchester the Middleton area pleas?

  • jemma

    Karen, I’m afraid I don’t know Middleton that well but would maybe try around the golf course near the M62,that’s the sort of area you’d normally find blackthorns. you could also look around the pond area near the cemetery.

  • Linda

    Does it matter if you use a really cheap gin? There are some owni brands that are very cheap at the moment.

  • Linda

    Does it matter if it’s a cheap gin there are some own brands that are very reasonable. Also are the sloes ready yet or do we need to wait still?

  • jemma

    I use supermarket own label gin and it makes very good sloe gin.I went out picking yesterday and they weren’t ready yet-Yorkshire! They were soft but didn’t come off the bush easily so going to leave them a while longer.

  • stephen millard

    Plenty of sloes to be found on the old railway line between Hedon and birstwick.Also blackberries,wild strawberry, raspberry and apples. Don’t take a lunch with you pick it as you go.

  • Nicki

    Jemma, can you recommend a reservoir you know of closer to the M62 Hudds for sloe bushes. Pugneys is a bit of a trail but maybe worth it as I’m dying to make some this year and have just left a load at my mates in Notts :( Thanks

  • jemma

    what postcode area are you looking for and how much are you wanting?

  • Neil

    I found a lot of blackthorn bushes with sloes aplenty along a disused railway line. Picked 2.5 kilo of them in no time they was that many. I guess the people of Idle dont know what there missing :0)

  • Shivang

    Does anyone know of a good spot for picking in South London (I live around SW16/Croydon.) Have been meaning to attempt making my own sloe gin for a couple of years, but never found any berries! Thanks.

  • Ellen

    a question for jemma, do you know if there are any sloes around stroud in gloucestershire. i only want enough for a couple of bottles. oh the pc is gl5 if you need it

  • jemma

    sorry I can’t help you Ellen.I live in West yorkshire.You need to look in the hedgerows.

  • Emsa

    Hi, does anyone know where I can find sloes in East Sussex, particularly around Heathfield / Cross in Hand / East Hoathly?!

  • Nicki

    Hi Jemma, I live in HD7. I’ve had a look round locally but without success so far. Not looking for loads, enough to make a couple of bottles (about 1kg?). Are they all round Pugneys?

  • John

    I use half of the above quantity of sloes, and half the quantity of sugar; but I add a couple of slices of apple to to the mix. The result is a far lighter, less syrupy brew. Similarly, is is a most delightful violet colour. When you get it right, you should be able to see through the liquid. A truly ‘cool’ way to drink sloe gin!

  • gordon

    i am in barnsley does anybody know anywere good to find them plese.

  • jemma

    Nicki there are some bushes on the lower path at scammonden dam on the car park side.Not sure if there’s any berries left as went last week and they were splitting.

  • jemma

    Pugneys has hudreds of bushes lining the path along the opposite side to the ar park.There is normally a very large harvest.Takes 5 mins walk to the start of the bushes from the car park.

  • Ben

    Hi,
    Does anybody know where I can pick these in/around Preston and Blackburn.

    Thanks.

  • Kathryh

    Does anyone know where to pick sloes in Aberdeenshire? Particularly around the Milltimber area if possible. Thanks guys!

  • Brenda

    Visitors to Cheshire Oaks Designer Outlet / Ellesmere Port should try the canal tow-path from Little Mill Industrial Estate* towards the Waterways Museum, I didn’t have time to try the other direction, sun was setting.
    * drive under the M53 and take the first left, Mill Lane, as the road bears right over the canal there’s a short length of road to an unused building; mind the glass on the road and ignore the litter. Walk behind the earth mound and cross the canal, down the steps and turn right, just keep walking.
    Ignore the traffic noise from the M53, I didn’t see any boats on the canal and only 2 dog walkers last Saturday afternoon; take a friend or your dog for company.

  • Agatha Angelu

    I live Round the Keighley area in West Yorks and would appreciate any info regarding where I could find sloe berries. I have only tasted sloe gin once but I vividly remember the sweet taste. Please help!!

  • Rachel

    Hiya

    We found are sloes at new lands corner in Surrey. It’s near Dorking via shear,

    Very nice place too if you like walking and the views are outstanding

  • heather

    can any one tell me where around aberdeen i can find sloes

  • Frank

    I live in the Reading area of Berkshire and wondered if anyone knows where any Sloe bushes might be in the general area

  • Claire

    I live in Greater Manchester and keen to make my own Slow gin for this winter, anyone have any ideas where I can find them?

    Thanks

  • Anne

    Anyone know where to find Sloe’s, haws or rowan berries in the Worcester area, got a preserve recipe i want to try out

  • Lesley Carr

    I live in the Ribble Valley. Have been looking around the lanes for blackthorn bushes and have found very few. What I have found is not very promising either. Is it a bad year for sloes?

  • Holly

    Hello,

    Anyone know any places to find sloe berries growing in south Manchester or Widnes?
    Thanks
    Holly

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  • [...] Bizness: Sloe berries for your viewing pleasure (and sloe gin for your tasting pleasure), and Ken Alaba’s awesome [...]

  • jill parker

    Thanks for the pugneys tip, off for a gander this week,any crab apples?

  • im trying to find sloes in high wycombe does anyone know of anywhere to pick?
    Also can they be picked before the frost then frozen then used in the gin?

  • Jules

    Hi Jemma,
    I live in Saddleworth so went over to Scammonden Dam today. I
    parked on the car park then went left down a steepish path onto the lower path by the water. The sailing club was to the left but there didn’t look like there were many bushes that way, so I turned right and walked towards the motorway then back up another path back to the car park. Not a sloe in sight. Was I in the wrong area? From your previous posts it sounds like you can sniff a sloe out at 1000 paces!!

  • Jules

    Claire,
    I’ve not been myself but have been told that there are sloes growing by Chorlton Water park. If you google “sloes chortlton” it brings up a link to a blog on mightaswell and someone has kindly posted an ariel photo with the area where the blackthorns are marked out. If you find any more please post and let us know

  • Mick

    Hi I live in Morpeth in northumberland does anyone know of some good spots for picking sloes?

  • Holly

    I found some sloes (or what I think are!) in Chorlton water park. There’s a path opposite the orchids and there are loads growing there! Most have been picked or weathered but there were still some there when I looked yesterday. Good luck!

  • [...] Sloe gin, elderflower cordial and cider.Photo Sources: 01 Sloe Gin Bottle, 02 Making Sloe Gin , 03 Sloes on the bush , 04 Sloes01 Sloe GinOrigin: Sloe Gin is the name of a traditional British infused liquor.  It is [...]

  • Hello all, my yearly message from Bere Marsh Organic farm – we are now picking sloes if anyone would like to order any. Bumper year! fiona@beremarshfarm.co.uk

  • Sammy jo

    Does anyone know of any sloes around the ash vale / aldershot area? Gu3 postcode?

  • Serena

    Peeps, there are a load of sloes in the woods next to the racecourse in Epsom-good luck!

  • Anyone where to get sloe berries or damson berries in ph7 area

  • Matthew

    An excellent Sloe picking track near Filey – a mile of Sloe bushes. Picked 10kg in 3 hours yesterday, but they are mine! LOL, location secret – especially when they sell for around £12 per kilo on eBay!! A good money earner, still thousands left, going back for more today.

  • Karen

    Are there any sloe bushes in or near the Castleford area and can I grow my own if so were do I get the starter plant from

  • Linda

    Hi does it make any difference if you pick before the first frost.

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