How to make sloe gin – and our pick of the best ones you can buy

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  • Sloe gin is a traditional British brew usually drunk in the cooler months. It's easy to make using foraged sloes. Here's our epert advice on how to make your own sloe gin, along with our picks for the best ones you can buy online.

    It is a classic homemade Christmas gift as the sloes that are picked in early Autumn can be used to make sloe gin that is ready bottle just in time for Christmas. The recipe below is almost 100 years old and still goes strong. It was first published in Woman’s Weekly in 1925!

    Sloe gin is made by steeping sloes in gin. Sugar and sometimes almonds or spice are also added to enhance the flavour. After leaving the gin to infuse for a few months you will be rewarded with a fruity flavoured maroon gin.

    You will struggle to find sloes in the supermarket. However, they grow readily in hedgerows around November, ripe for the foraging! They have a limited season and are only available during Autumn. Traditionally recipes recommend picking sloes after the first frost. But read on to discover our nifty tip for picking them early.

    Sloes are small fruits, that look a little like miniature plums. They grow on thorny Blackthorn bushes. To eat them raw is unpleasant as they are extremely sour with a pungent medicinal flavour. So they are traditionally transformed into jams, jellies or drinks such as sloe gin or sloe wine.

    What is the difference between sloe gin and gin?

    Gin is the basis of sloe gin. Once the sloes and sugar are added the liquor will become sweeter and more fruity. However, it will also retain much of the original flavour so it’s worth picking a good quality gin to use as a base. Adding sloes to gin will also transform the gin into a bright purple red colour. You can drink sloe gin as you would regular gin or neat. Read on to discover some of our favourite serving suggestions.

    How to make sloe gin

    Sloe gin is great fun to make. For this recipe which will make 2.5L of sloe gin you will need 1.5kg of sloes. Head out in autumn to forage the fruit.

    Also beware that although the process of the initial brewing of sloe gin is relatively quick and easy, you will need to leave the gin to infuse for about 3-4 months. You will also need to return to your brew to muddle it once a day. So it is quite a slow process (excuse the pun!).

    Many recipes suggest picking sloes after the first frost. This is so the skins are fragile and broken so they will infuse in the alcohol without the necessity of prinking them all over. However, we have a nifty trick: if you pick the sloes before the first frost pop them in the freezer overnight. In the morning when you thaw the sloes the skins with burst.

    sloes steeping in gin in a large jar to make sloe gin

    Ingredients

    • 1.5kg sloes, cleaned and stalks removed
    • 2.5L good quality gin
    • 750g demerara sugar
    • 15g blanched almonds, optional

    Method

    1. Prick the sloes with a large needle in a few places (or squeeze them gently between your fingers). Put into a large jar with a tightly fitting lid. Add the gin, sugar and almonds, if using.
    2. Secure the lid and shake well. Shake well once a day for about 14 weeks, and then it will be ready.
    3. Strain the gin through a muslin cloth. Discard the sloes and nuts, (or save the sloes and turn them into a boozy jam). Using a funnel pour the gin into bottles with tight-fitting caps or corks. If making as gifts you could adorn the bottles with jolly bows.

    How to drink sloe gin

    sloe gin cocktailTraditionally sloe gin is drunk as an aperitif or nightcap. It has a lower alcohol content and sweeter flavour than regular gin so can be enjoyed either neat or mixed.

    We are partial to a glass of sloe gin mixed with tonic water or even ginger beer. Add about 100ml to a glass with ice and top up with a mixer of your choice.

    Sloe gin is also used as an ingredient in cocktails such as an Alabama Slammer and Sloe Gin Fizz. But our favourite way to enjoy sloe gin is in a winter warming hot toddy. To make a sloe gin hot toddy simply add a double shot of sloe gin to a mug of warm apple juice. You can also add spices such as cinnamon and a squeeze of lemon juice. Sloe gin is often made with the addition of spices as the warming flavours complement the fruity flavour and give it a festive feel.

    For something with a more summery vibe, we love to add a splash to a glass of dry Prosecco. It gives it a pink blush and sweet berry flavour.

    Is sloe gin stronger than gin?

    Homemade sloe gin is less alcoholic than regular gin. Most shop-bought varieties are about 26% – 30% whereas gin is typically around 40%. Because of the lower alcohol content, sloe gin is often drunk neat.

    sloe gin in a glass on a chalk board

    Can homemade sloe gin go bad?

    Homemade sloe gin will last for years as alcohol acts as a preservative. Make sure your bottles are clean and the tops are secure. If after a few years you notice sediment forming in the bottles you can strain the gin through a muslin cloth to remove this.

    It’s generally best to store the bottles of sloe gin in a cool dark place such as larder. Although we keep ours stashed away at the back of the drinks cabinet and that works too. Some people also keep theirs in the dark depths of the wardrobe or under the bed, so you can get creative here with a storage solution that works for you!

    It’s common to make a new batch each year just as you finish the previous year’s yield. We label ours with the date as each year they will taste different. The flavour will also change over time as the sugar breaks down. But don’t worry it won’t go off.

    Where to buy sloe gin

    There are some really great sloe gins available to buy. If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own here are five of the best sloe gins available to buy online.

    five bottles of sloe gins to buy online

    1. Sipsmith Sloe Gin

    The basis of this drink is, of course, Sipsmiths amazing award-winning London Dry Gin. The gin is left to rest on wild sloe berries creating this flushed complex and fruity beauty.

    Bottle of sloe gin sipsmith

    SHOP NOW: Sipsmith Sloe Gin, £25, John Lewis

     

    2. Hepple Sloe and Hawthorn Gin

    More than just sloe gin. This delicious gin was inspired by wild hedgerows on the moorlands surrounding the Hepple distillery. Hawthorns berries are used to create a more complex flavour and add a dryness.

    Bottle of sloe gin hepple

    SHOP NOW: Hepple Sloe Gin, 50cl, £30, Waitrose Cellar

    3. Chase Oak Aged Sloe Gin

    Using both tart sloe berries and sweet mulberries create a balanced and warming drink. At Chase distillery in Herefordshire they do things a little differently. They gently macerate sloe and mulberries with gin before oak ageing the sloe gin in Rhône Valley red wine casks.

    Bottle of sloe gin chase

    SHOP NOW: Chase Aged Sloe & Mulberry Gin, 50cl, £27.50, Waitrose Cellar

     

    4. Monkey 47 – Sloe Gin

    Starting with a superior quality gin makes for an exceptional sloe gin. This is the drink to go for if you have the cash to splash. Monkey 47 sloe gin is distilled in small batches using 47 regional botanicals and macerated with sloe berries from the Black Forest.

    Bottle of sloe gin Monkey 46

    SHOP NOW: Monkey 47 Sloe Gin, 50cl, £40, thedrinkshop.com

     

    5. 6 O’clock Sloe Gin

    The berries and the gin are left to infuse for a whole six months creating an intensely rich flavour with a real fruit punch. Conscious of not adding too much sugar this is less sweet than some so retains the flavour of the just-picked tartness of the sloes.

    Bottle of sloe gin 6 oclock

    SHOP NOW: 6 O’clock Sloe Gin, 70 cl, £33.58, Amazon

    Will you make your own or buy one of the lovely bottles above?

     

    TOP TIP: As well as being lovely to drink sloe gin is also a great addition to desserts. It can be used to make a lovely fruity boozy jelly or in place of gin in this delicious gin and tonic cake.

    Get the recipe: Gin & Tonic cake

    Gin and Tonic Cake