Making Sloe Gin – Best Sloe Gin Recipe Ever

by Sarah - Craft Invaders

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. In this post, we will show you how to identify sloes, when to pick them and share with you our best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn shrub (Prunus Spinosa). It is native to Europe, Western Asia and parts of North Africa, and has been introduced to other parts of the world.

Blackthorn, a member of the plum family, has been used here in the UK as stock-proof hedging for centuries. Consequently, in rural areas, it is a common sight indeed. In our local hedges, we find three species of wild plum; Sloe, Bullace and Damson. It can be challenging to distinguish them from each other, but all of them are edible, so don’t worry too much if a few Bullaces find their way into the basket when you are collecting them.

 

How to identify Sloe Berries

One of the easiest times to spot a sloe bush is in early spring when it comes into flower. It’s worth taking note when you see it blossom so you can return later in the year to harvest the Sloes berries.

The Blackthorn bush is usually the first hedgerow species to flower here in the UK. Its blossom appears between March and June. It blooms before it’s leaves appear, unlike its frequent companion, Hawthorn, which comes into leaf first, then flowers.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Blackthorn gets its name from its dark bark and spiky thorns. Its twigs are black with leaf buds along the sharp spines, and the leaves are oval with a toothed edge.

Sloes are the berry of the Blackthorn bush. These sour blue-black fruits measure about 1cm across and ripen from around September to December. Commonly used for flavouring gin, sloes are also popular for making jellies and other preserves.

 

When to Harvest Sloes

The sloe fruit, which starts off green, ripens to a beautiful black with a blue/purple wild yeast bloom to them. You can read more about natural yeasts in How To Make Sourdough Starter from Wild Yeast.

Raw, the fruit is super tart and astringent, but like many wild fruits, they make excellent, jewel-like jelly, and can be made into a delicious liqueur which here in the UK we call Sloe Gin.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Sloe Berry season runs from September to December. Traditionally Sloes are picked after the first frosts, as this is when they are at their sweetest. Old recipes call for each fruit to be pricked with a thorn from the same bush it came from, or a silver pin to allow the alcohol to permeate the fruit and draw the flavour out. I have made Sloe Gin by this method once and can assure you it’s a tedious way to spend an hour or two.

Traditional recipes also call for the sugar to be added to the sloes at the start of the liqueur making process, again to encourage the flavours to be drawn out. However, I prefer to leave the sweetening to the end of the process and add it in the form of a sugar syrup when we are bottling it.

 

Why you should freeze Sloe Berries when making Sloe Gin

To avoid having to prick the individual fruits, I favour the method of picking the fruit and freezing it first. There are several advantages to taking this approach.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Firstly, it means you can pick your fruit in batches, as you come across it, and save it up in the freezer until you have enough to use.

Secondly, the freezing process sweetens the fruit for you, so you don’t have to wait until the first frosts.

And finally, freezing damages the cell walls of the fruit, allowing the juice to impart its flavour to your spirit quickly, without any pricking or use of sugar.

For more guidance on foraging and freezing, please check out our freezing foraged fruit post.

In my experience, using frozen sloe berries makes the best sloe gin with a richer flavour, so this is the method I recommend.

 

Sloe Gin Recipe.

What you need to make Sloe Gin

By freezing the sloes, our Sloe Gin recipe is now super easy.

Take the frozen sloes, and roughly half fill a bottle or jar that has a well-fitting lid.

Top up with gin, and leave to infuse in a cool, dark place for at least three months, giving it a shake when you remember.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

You can see how the skins have split during the freezing and defrosting process in the picture above.

After the sloe gin has infused, strain through muslin and sweeten with a simple sugar syrup to taste.

Sloe Gin continues to mature over time, and each year’s batch will have a slightly different flavour and sweetness depending on the conditions of that year.

This one from last year has now mellowed into a very smooth port like liqueur with a dark colour and delicious taste.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

 

Sloe Gin makes a fab homemade gift and is an excellent addition to a Christmas Hamper. For more foraged gin infusions check out our Beech Leaf Noyau and our Himalayan Balsam Gin, or if you prefer something with a bit more of a kick, our Wild Horseradish and Ground Ivy Vodka.

 

Every year we forage for sloes berries to make sloe gin. Learn how to identify sloes, when to pick them and try the best sloe gin recipe ever.

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14 comments

Ann Hannigan-Breen June 23, 2017 - 7:15 pm

We traditionally make something like this here in Navarra, Northern Spain. But it is made with our local, easily available sloes,along with a few coffee beans and a cinnamon pod in special dry anisette, for one to eight months. It is called Patxaran.

Reply
Sarah - Craft Invaders June 23, 2017 - 7:58 pm

That sounds interesting Ann, thanks for sharing – I’ll try it out this Autumn when we pick our Sloes 🙂

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Ashley Beolens September 22, 2016 - 9:55 pm

We keep threatening to make Sloe Gin in our house but are never really sure of the amounts of sugar needed to sweeten, so adding at the end like this might work out well for us (now to find some Sloes)

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Sarah - Craft Invaders September 30, 2016 - 9:55 am

I sweeten all my infusions once they are made now – makes for a fun tasting session!

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Lauren (The Helpful Hiker) September 21, 2016 - 7:32 am

I’ve never made my own, but am partial to a bit of sloe gin. Your tips are fab, if I can find some sloes I will give it a go. Also liking the idea of your cranberry and orange liqueur, making me feel quite christmassy!

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Sarah - Craft Invaders September 30, 2016 - 9:49 am

Thanks Lauren, Sloe Gin is lovely and makes a fab gift, the cranberry liqueur is perfect for Christmas too x

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Jill Holden October 15, 2017 - 6:39 pm

Could I replace with blueberries?

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Sarah - Craft Invaders October 15, 2017 - 9:05 pm

Absolutely Jill, We had a homemade blueberry liqueur at a wedding last year and it tasted amazing – I think they had probably used vodka in theirs but you could definitely use either 🙂

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Wendy September 12, 2016 - 10:31 pm

Mmm, yum! Love sloe gin. My Dad makes a great one – very potent but very lovely! (Hic.) 🙂
I’ve never tried making it before but must rectify that and have a go at it as would love to have my own stash!

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Sarah - Craft Invaders September 20, 2016 - 2:30 pm

It really is simple to make Wendy – let me know if you give it a go 🙂

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Nikki Frank-Hamilton September 12, 2016 - 12:58 pm

Sarah, I love reading your posts about making a liqueurs. It is so fascinating to me and you’ve made an art of it. I don’t think we have this fruit here, I am going to have to look, this sounds like a really fun project. Especially as the flavors change from year to year, it would be so fun to see what it’s like when you pop the top for the first taste! I also really love that you know exactly what’s in it, as I get older this is so much more important to me! Cheers!

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Sarah - Craft Invaders September 20, 2016 - 2:26 pm

Thanks Nikki, its such fun trying new flavours and it is lovely to be able to use fruits that we can forage 🙂

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