Make your own Sloe Gin

We started making our own Sloe Gin a few years ago. Just to see what all the fuss was about, because we'd never tried it. Once we tried it... oh my. We realised we'd been missing out and have made it every year since.

Not as a substitute for regular gin with tonic, though I know many people enjoy sloe gin that way. But as a liqueur in the depths of winter when you're snuggled by the fire, it's hard to beat.  

The truth is: you can never make too much Sloe Gin

At some point in our Sloe Gin adventures, we've worked out the thing that everyone tells you but you don't listen. The longer you leave it, the better it gets. So make lots because otherwise, by the time it's at the 'wow' stage, you've hardly any left.

In previous years, by the time we've given loads away as gifts and drunk some ourselves, we've run out pretty quickly. So we've never had much to keep back, to let it really mature. However this year I think it's safe to say: we've gone for it.

Make homemade Sloe Gin

For yes, dear reader, your eyes do not deceive you. This is a one gallon demijohn of sloe gin. We made it a couple of weeks ago when we realised we like it better than any of the other variations (damson vodka, sloe vodka, damson brandy... we've tried them all).

So we decided to put all our eggs in one basket, so to say. I had just shaken it before I took the picture, in case you were wondering how I managed to get all those heavenly berries floating in mid-air...

What Gin do you use?

Some say: the better the gin, the better the sloe gin. I say: how would you know? By the time you've added sugar and sloes, shaken it a bazillion times and left it to mature for months or years (if you can stand it), I don't know how you'd be able to tell what type of gin you'd made it with.

Sloe gin is a totally different animal to regular gin. I wouldn't be able to tell my Gordon's from my Plymouth by the time I'd turned it into sloe gin - my palate is nowhere near that sophisticated. I really can't see the point in buying expensive gin, only to change it beyond recognition.

So we're always on the look out for cheap gin. From Aldi, Morrisons, Lidl, or when the other brands are reduced. When it is the right price, we stash it away for this very thing. Yes a bottle of gin is at least £10. But I've noticed Sloe Gin becoming fashionable, and branded versions creeping on to the shelf in the supermarket. Commercially produced Sloe Gins are much more expensive than £10, and never as nice as your own. And when you read the ingredients, they don't just add sloes and sugar... this way you know exactly what's in it.

Where do you find sloes?

Sloes (Prunus spinosa) are the fruit of the blackthorn bush. It took us a while to sort out the difference between damsons, bullaces and sloes. They all have stones, they all grow in hedgerows, they're all dark purple/black. None of them taste great raw (sloes being positively bitter), they all make great booze and they all come from the same horticultural family. However sloes are our favourite, so they're the ones we pick for gin.

Sloe Gin Recipe

We find them in the hedgerows around Horam in East Sussex, where we live. By some amazing stroke of luck, we have them by the shovel-load in the bushes directly opposite our allotment (that's a secret by the way, so please don't tell anyone).

Judging by Instagram this morning, there are plenty of sloes still to be found depending on where you are in the country. The sloes are almost finished in these parts now, everything seems to have finished earlier this year because it's been so mild. But there are a few left and I took this picture of a bush this morning to show you the thorns.

For the easiest way to know that you have found sloes are the thorns that grow along with them. Apologies for the image quality; it was a quick snap on my phone. Hopefully you can see the large thorns, and the way the round, black berries hug the branches. That's how you know you've struck gold and found sloes. And once you've found them in a hedgerow, you then know where they are for future years.

Traditionally you should pick sloes after the first frost. The problem being: they could all have been picked by someone else by then. And if we'd waited that long this year, they'd have shriveled on the bush! So we pop them in the freezer until we're ready to make the gin, and pretend that's the first frost. This means you can pick a few berries each time you see them until you have enough to make your gin. The added bonus being that the skins split when the berries defrost, so you don't have to prick them all with a pin before using them.

Sloes frozen for gin
What if I can't find Sloes?

If you can't find any, or it's the wrong time of year, you can use dried sloes which we sell in our online shop. I have to confess we haven't done that yet because we've only made sloe gin when we could find fresh sloes, but we plan to do a 'compare and contrast' later this year when we've stopped making cider. I'll let you know how we get on.

Dried sloes look like fresh ones, just a bit shriveled and bullet-like. You need to soak them in warm water overnight to rehydrate them before you use them. Not using gin, otherwise the dry berries will soak up all the gin and you'll have to buy more to make sloe gin! More importantly though, using gin to rehydrate your sloes is likely to kill the enzymes in the sloe skins which react with the sugar to make your brew. So best stick to water.

When you eventually strain off your sloe gin, those gorgeous sloes won't go to waste. You'll be able to make Sloe Port with your gin-soaked sloes, red wine, sugar and a bit of brandy - Sloe Port Recipe here.

 

Make Your Own Sloe Gin - Recipe

We use the Andy Hamilton recipe from his legendary and outstanding book: Booze for Free. The recipe calls for 750ml of gin; if you have different quantities of gin/sloes then adjust the other ingredients accordingly.

Ingredients

750ml/1.5 pints Gin

340g/12oz granulated sugar

500g/1lb sloes which have been washed, frozen and defrosted so the skins have split

plus a large jar which you can seal like a mason jar, or a bottle with a lid (remember the neck needs to be wide enough to get the sloes in and out) or (ahem) a demijohn. Obviously you need a lot of gin to fill a demijohn...

Method

Place the sloes in the jar/bottle with the sugar. Top up with gin and shake. Repeat for ages, at least until Christmas (I'm not joking). Theoretically at Christmas it will be ready, so strain it through muslin into pretty bottles at that stage, remembering to keep the berries for your next creation: Sloe Port.

But if you leave it for a few more months, it will be lovelier. Just pop it in a cupboard and forget about it (I know). You don't need to keep shaking now. If you can bear to leave it for ages, like years, it will be utterly delicious.

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How do I make Sloe Gin

12 comments

  • Hi Iain, sorry you missed the fresh sloes but dried work really well too! As for the sugar… well. Just as you can never have too much Sloe Gin, I’m not sure you can use too much sugar either. A friend of mine uses none in hers and its not to my taste, sugar all the way I say!

    Bev
  • I’ve been making Sloe Gin for years, always with fresh sloes and the cheapest Gin I can find. This year I was beaten to to the Blackthorn grounds by others so using dried for the first time. Pleased to read the importance of soaking the berries in warm water first, that should give them a chance to properly rehydrate. I appear to use more sugar than most recipes, but it always works and as always the longer you leave it, the better it tastes. Currently finishing off the last bottle 6 years old !!

    Iain
  • Hi Patricia, when did you make it? If it’s this year’s vintage (so to say) it needs longer. You could add some more sugar to the vessel and reshake for a few days if it’s really dry, up to you. Simply leaving it longer without doing anything more to it will help enormously.

    Bev
  • Have just tasted my sloe vodka- it’s ok but a bit dry – any ideas of what I can do?! Thanks

    Patricia Flack
  • Hi Jax, it’s also on this blog. This is not a clickable link, but you cut and paste it into your browser it should work. Alternatively search for Sloe Port in the website search box and it’s there. Well worth looking for! :) https://www.almostoffgrid.com/blogs/almost-off-grid/sloe-port-recipe-using-left-over-berries-from-sloe-gin

    Bev

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