how to make sloe gin

Autumn is here so it’s time to pick (or buy) your sloes and make your sloe gin. Two months is the minimum amount of time it needs to mature, and as it’s now two months until Christmas…

First up, you need to find your sloes. Around this time in the UK the wild blackthorn trees are aching with fruit. There’s lots of debate about when to pick them, but the simplest rule is that if you can pop the berries easily between your finger and thumb, they’re ripe.

Pick enough to half-fill the bottle of your choice, but if you have loads it’s a really good idea to make a batch of them. The longer you leave your gin the better, so anything you don’t drink this year will be fantastic the next year, and even better the year after that.

Start by sticking them in the freezer overnight. This will simulate the first frost and split the skin on your berries, allowing them to release their natural sweetness.

After sterilising your airtight bottle(s), half fill it with the frozen fruit and top up with gin – a good gin please, as cheap ones make cheap sloe gin and will often ruin all of your hard work. Add two big spoonfuls of caster sugar and shake for a minute. Lay on its side out of direct sunlight and twist it 180 degrees every other day for two months.

how to make sloe gin

A few days before your first glass, give it a taste. If you think you need it sweeter then make a simple sugar syrup. Do this by dissolving equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat. Let it cool then add to taste.

Serve on a crisp winter’s day lunchtime as an aperitif.


Tags

christmas, drink, gin, recipe, sloe gin

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  • Natalie Moore

    I made mine on Monday after foraging for Sloes on Saturday… They spent the first 36 hours in the freezer before being added to the gin. I’ve read it’s best to add the sugar at the end so the natural sugars in the fruit can fully release. :D I’m also making Blackberry Vodka too!

    • Mike Fletcher

      You could also try Blackberries steeped in a blended whiskey.very drinkable but not as good as a half decent slow gin

    • Sue Mitchell

      We have always added sugar at start as there is very little sugar in fruit, try sucking one!!! Really don’t see need to freeze, we just Nick with a veg knife! Heard all sorts of rubbish reasons about metals etc from an American who read up on internet but 50 yrs personal experience and many years prior with late Father & his Sussex village family I think our way is proven!

    • lymielady

      Not really many. Natural sugars in the sloes but I personally would add half the sugar at start when it’s dissolved & gin is well covered sample it & add more if desired. We have never in 50 plus years had a bad batch, even non drinkers have enjoyed our sloe gin!

      • fre3ke

        There is 7-11% natural sugars in sloes, roughly the same as apricot. It’s just hard to taste because citric acid and tannin dominate the taste. Despite the natural sugars, adding sugar at the start seems like a good idea. The undamaged cells release flavours through osmosis. Adding sugar will increase the volume of the liquid outside of the undamaged cells, thereby diluting that liquid. More dilution means more osmosis and more extraction of flavour. It also means less extraction of sugar, but that is no big loss because you can add sugar yourself. So I agree with all the experienced people here: add sugar at the start. Or a couple of weeks after that.

        • lymielady

          Oh far too technical and yes adding sugar does increase the quantity, slightly, and possibly reduced alcohol volume but as it is drunk neat (not many do so with gin) then it’s fine, plus it is a drink to be taken in small glasses, we tend to use sherry not liqueur glasses, it’s not really a drink for drinking in large quantity but one to be savoured! But of course it’s each to his own & after 50 plus years (more for my 90 plus Mum) I think we have it about right for us!

          • fre3ke

            I guess it really was too technical since you completely missed the point. The point was that adding sugar at the start might extract more flavour. However, more flavour or not, I don’t like the taste when sugar is added at the start. To each his own indeed!

  • http://www.flourandwater.co.uk/ Neil Annett

    I sometimes like to eat them raw when I’m feeling masochistic. It’s like having your head sucked inside-out.

    • jamieoliverdotcom

      Comment of the week.

  • Hollogram

    There is a good blog article here showing all the steps needed to make sloe gin and a list of equipment etc: http://stuffiwanttomake.co.uk/making-the-ultimate-sloe-gin/

  • Martin King

    Just made my first batch… not sure if I can wait two months though (Xmas is coming). Would it be okay after a month?

    • Mike Fletcher

      Hi Martin
      Yes it will be okay after a month but the extra 4 weeks it would be delicious.

      • lymielady

        Absolutely Mike, ok to have a little sample after 4 weeks just to make sure it’s progressing well!!! Any excuse!

        • Mike Fletcher

          I started bottling the 2014 batch on 6th October so already almost 4 weeks under way. I messed about with the sugar this time, melted the sugar slightly before decanting to the sloe gin container.

    • Sue Mitchell

      You need to wait until sugar is fully dissolved and gin is rich deep ruby red, then taste, if you need to add more sugar then just pour onto jar no need for syrup the alcohol dissolves it. Look above for recipe but would recommend 10oz approx per bot of gin. It does depend on the juiciness of berries but just follow your own taste buds!

  • Karen Smith

    after a couple of days, I opened the jar and it already smells amazing! however I noticed some things floating on the top, I believe these are maggots that were in the sloes :-( I removed them and put them in the bin, will the gin still be OK? I guess the maggots died happy!!!

    • Michelle Tiddy

      For the first time ever I’ve just noticed some maggots in the sloe gin I made today!!! There are only a couple and I will strain them off……..by degrees….I’m sure it is just like the worm in tequila!!!

  • Devonshirelass

    It is true that you can keep sloe gin for a year and have a fantastic brew for Xmas 2014?

    • Jeff Dray

      I made three bottles of Sloe gin in August 2008, put them at the back of the kitchen cupboard and didn’t find it until Christmas 2012. It was possibly the tastiest drink I have ever had. Smooth as silk, the tang of the fruit was there but not a hint of roughness and this was using Lidl’s cheapest gin. I’ve just done two more for Christmas 2014. The longer the better.

      • Sue Mitchell

        It only kept well because bottles were unopened & in the dark. Best to drink year it’s made as there is nothing chemically happening to improve it. Agree using cheap gin though as it’s just the base alcohol you need not the refined flavourings in expensive gins. I am sure if a ‘cheap’ bottle & expensive bottle were made by same method etc then I’d defy anyone to tell the difference.

        • fre3ke

          There is something happening to improve it with time. The tannins break down. That is why it was smoother and less rough after 4 years.

          • Sue Mitchell

            Never made a rough one yet? If there is a better harvest next year I will put a small bottle aside for a few years but really don’t see how you can improve on perfection! Lol

          • fre3ke

            If you do put some aside, I’d advise you not to put in your regular amount of sugar. You probably put in more to counter the tannin, so when the tannin is gone you could up with something too sugary.

          • Sue Mitchell

            What ratio of ingredients do you use? Although we have used a tried & trusted recipe for many years ( lowered the sugar amounts though) I am interested in other methods.

          • fre3ke

            Actually, this is my second year into sloe liquor making. It’s from winemaking that I know about the high amount of tannin in sloes, and tannin breaking down with time. One more tip from winemaking: if you don’t like the oxidation/browing, you could try preventing it by adding a small amount of sulfite to your liquor. Although I have some 5 year old cherry liquor and I like the sherry-like taste of oxidation in that one. This year with the sloes I’m trying different kinds of alcohol, the difference between frozen and unfrozen, different additives (vanilla bean, almonds, aniseed), and adding the sugar at the start or at the end. If something interesting comes out, I’ll get back to you before next harvest :)

          • lymielady

            We have kept sloe gin longer before especially in the years when sloes were plentiful but have never found it as nice, we prefer the sharpshooter fruity flavour that is so unique to the sloe berry, the colour is also what makes a young sloe gin superior!
            Have also made it with Vodka, brandy & white rum but gin is still tops in this house.
            I still cannot see any reL benefit from keeping it when it’s so delicious made the way we do!
            2 yrs ago an American colleague try to tell me what I was doing wrong, he had read up online about the right way……his was so foul the recipient threw it down the sink, said it made them ill but have happily drunk ours over many years!
            I will still stand by the fact that you are only flavouring an already distilled alcohol !

            Anyway enjoy your experiments!

          • fre3ke

            Gin is a flavored alcohol. You’re actually pairing flavours, not adding flavour to a neutral base as you seem to imply. That’s why it makes sense to experiment. Maybe you cannot improve your recipe any more, but I will definitely improve mine.

          • lymielady

            Yes gin is a flavoured alcohol and by turning into sloe gin you are adding the juice/ flavour of the fruit!

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  • Sue Mitchell

    Been making sloe gin for 50 plus years & would disagree with loads in this recipe! Sloes are so bitter they are in edible so the quantities are 1 bot gin ( and we find cheap gin equally as good as the flavour comes from berries) 1lb sloes 1lb of sugar. We though now only yes approx 10oz of sugar as the old recipe called for rock candy which is difficult to find. We put our in a Demi John and just slice through skin on each berry with a veg knife. Keep in dark cupboard & shake jar every 3/4 days. It’s ready to strain through muslin into bottles when sugar has all dissolved but taste first & if still too sharp add 1oz or two more until you like the sweetness. Bottle in dark glass & keep in dark cupboard. Drink within the year as the alcohol will take over the fruit and it will change to a sludgy red/brown rather than rich ruby red! A small tot added to a G & T is delicious! Some recipes add a few almonds but that’s purely to taste!

    • Editor Jim

      Some good suggestions there Sue, thanks. Sloe gin recipes are often completely different from one household to the next. However, if you put the berries in the freezer then you don’t need to slice them individually as they ever so slightly burst without the loss of any of the juice. And life is way too short for cheap gin, the botanics in a good gin such as Bombay Sapphire really help the flavours develop. Have you done your batch for Xmas 2014 yet? Our harvest here is about a month earlier than last year, so the freezer has come in really handy….

      • Sue Mitchell

        We have put a smaller amount down this year but most for a friend! We slice into sloes as we hold over opening of jar/ Demi John so don’t lose any juice & it’s a ritual we actually enjoy! May one year try with a more expensive gin but we feel the strength of flavour the sloes give cannot really feel there’s any benefit! Maybe you could send a sample, lol! Our normal bushes didn’t have as many but yes all sloes were early this year , we are both a bit old (me a bit disabled) to go hiking too far to find them!
        Prefer to drink the BS if we ever get given some!!!

        • Editor Jim

          And what a lovely ritual that is. Have a great harvest.

          • Editor Jim

            send your address to jim.tanfield@jamieoliver.com – might have some goodies for you

          • lymielady

            Have sent my address after a bit of hassle ! Lo

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  • Gwen

    The last time I used sloes I put them in vodka, that was 22 years ago, I still have half a bottle which is like a thick liquor which tastes beautiful. It’s also great drizzled over a good vanilla ice cream.

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  • lymielady

    Forgot to say I always feed my Xmas cakes on sloe gin (left from last year)!

  • fre3ke

    I just tried my sloe liqueur and all I can taste is tannin. I will keep it for a year or so to see if it improves.

    As for adding the sugar at the start or after straining the sloes, I tried both and I prefer after straining. The one where I added sugar at the start tastes stale, more like cough medicine.

    I don’t like gin in general and my favorite for this liqueur is ‘Weinbrand’ (like brandy but smoother). I also tried white grain alcohol but it lacks flavor, and cognac is too woody and harsh.
    I added pieces of sweet almond to one batch and I couldn’t really taste it, but it did change the color to something more milky. So not a good idea. However, aniseed goes very well with the taste of sloes in this liqueur!Vanilla is also a good addition. But I don’t think I would waste another vanilla bean on this liqueur :) Or sloes.

  • Linda Wong Min

    Hi, I hardly can get sloes in my country, can I replace it with raspberry become raspberry gin? Any suggestion?