A Simple Recipe for Sloe Gin

, written by Ann Marie Hendry gb flag

Sloes

It’s that time of year again – small, fat, blue-black sloes are hanging from the boughs of the blackthorns in a hedgerow near me, and inevitably my thoughts are turning to booze! Sloe gin is so simple to make and so tasty that it’s well worth the effort of harvesting the wild fruits. Not only is this luscious liqueur devilishly delicious, it’s almost impossible to get the recipe wrong.

Lots of variations on the basic recipe are available on the web, and there are quite fierce discussions about the right way to make it! Wait until after a frost to pick the fruits? To prick or not to prick? Drink after two months – or two years? I usually choose the most direct and no-nonsense way to produce anything in the kitchen, and so I use a very simple and reliable sloe gin recipe.

Harvesting Sloes

Sloes are common in hedgerows, even if they are sometimes a bit hard to find. They grow on tall shrubs called blackthorn, or Prunus spinosa. Both names refer to the plant’s remorselessly thorny nature, which will help you to identify the shrubs when they spike you! I usually find that the dark little fruits sit quite high up on the bush, just out of arm’s reach. But then I am quite short, so harvesting might prove easier for the basketball players among you.

In spring, blackthorns can be identified by the small white flowers, just like those of cherries and plums to which they’re closely related. They are in fact an ancestor of all cultivated plums, not that you’d realise that by the bitter raw taste. The flowers appear before the leaves, so if you spot them in a hedgerow or woodland edge, make a note to come back in autumn to harvest your sloes.

Traditional wisdom says to wait until after the first frost to begin picking sloes, as they will then be ‘bletted’, or split and softened, and ready to release their juices. However, as long as the sloes are ripe, putting them in the freezer overnight works just as well. Test for ripeness by giving the fruits a squeeze – they should give slightly under your fingers. If they’re rock-hard, come back and try again in a week or two.

Sloes

Sloe Gin Ingredients

As I said above I like to keep things simple in the kitchen, and with just three ingredients, sloe gin couldn’t be easier to prepare. I don’t even need to refer to a recipe to write down the following ingredients:

  • 450g (1lb) of sloes, give or take
  • 225g (0.5lb) sugar
  • 1 litre (32oz) gin or vodka

It’s not a prescriptive recipe, so if you’ve picked more or fewer sloes don’t worry – just bung them in and adjust the quantity of sugar accordingly. Most recipes, including the above, recommend using about half as much sugar as sloes by weight, but despite having a sweet tooth I find this to be a bit too sweet for my tastes. I’d recommend putting in less than this to begin with. If nothing else, the possibility of having to add more sugar gives you a good excuse to sample a teaspoon of the liqueur in a month’s time!

An added extra often suggested is crushed almonds, or a couple of drops of almond essence, to bring out the flavour of the sloes.

Gin is just juniper-flavoured vodka, so don’t be afraid to use vodka instead of gin if that’s what you have in your cupboard. My opinion is that sloe gin is a little tastier than sloe vodka, but I do enjoy both. Purists insist you need to use expensive spirit, but while I would only contemplate drinking good quality vodka neat, I find that sloe vodka or sloe gin is sinfully tasty even with supermarket own-brands.

Similarly, sloes are just small, astringent plums, so feel free to replace the sloes with plums or damsons. Plums are easier to pick and prepare than sloes, and if you have a plum tree in your garden it’s a great way to use up a bounty of these often very productive trees.

Sloe

How to Make Sloe Gin

To make sloe gin, first wash your sloes and remove any bits of stem, foliage, insects etc. Many people recommend pricking the sloes all over with a fork or needle to let the gin mingle with the juices, but I reckon those people have too much time on their hands! Besides, if you picked them after a hard frost or froze them overnight this won’t be necessary.

Put the sloes into a large, sterilised, wide-necked jar. Add the sugar, top up with gin, seal the jar and give it a good shake. Some people recommend turning the jar upside-down to stir up the contents, but I found out to my cost that some jars leak when you do this, leaving you smelling like you’ve overdosed on cough medicine.

Pop the jar into a cool, dark cupboard and gently shake it daily until the sugar has dissolved, usually within a couple of weeks. The liquid will turn a delightful deep burgundy colour in no time. Once the sugar has dissolved, try to remember to shake the jar about once a week.

Don’t open the jar – except to taste and adjust the amount of sugar – for at least two months. After two to three months, it’s time to strain off the liquid through muslin or a jelly bag, leaving you clear, sediment-free, brightly coloured sloe gin. Decant it into sterilised bottles. It can be drunk now (perfect for Christmas, for yourself or as a gift!), or leave it for a few more months to mature. It will store indefinitely and, like most of us, just gets better with age.

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner (for PC & Mac) or if you'd prefer an app for your mobile or tablet device, our iPad & iPhone app Garden Plan Pro is available on the App Store here.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments



Comments

 
"It would have been helpful if you had identified the bush the "sloes" come from by the scientific (Latin) name to avoid confusion. Different countries (I'm in Canada) have lots of black berries that look like the photo. In fact in Canada we have buckthorns all over the place that look exactly like your berry close up and they would make you sick if you used them. "
Bill in Peterborough Canada on Wednesday 21 October 2015
"Hi Bill, I actually did mention the scientific name for blackthorn (not buckthorn) in the third paragraph above - it's Prunus spinosa. You're quite right that it's important to be one hundred per cent sure of what you're eating when foraging - edible plants can closely resemble others that could potentially make you sick, and they may have more than one common name even in the same country. Always do thorough research and if you're not sure - don't eat it. "
Ann Marie Hendry on Wednesday 21 October 2015

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

 
   
(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)



Captcha


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)



By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions