Autumn is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and there is no more misty fruit than the sloe. Each dark purple berry is touched with blue smoke, but don’t let their good looks fool you. Popping one in your mouth will draw your gums from your teeth, and your tongue will shrink away in fear – they’re tremendously astringent. But, with a little preparation, and a lot of patience, they’ll transform a plain old bottle of gin into a deeply delicious liqueur.
Making sloe gin is very much a case of life in the sloe lane. It can require quite a bit of patience but is extremely rewarding - here's the perfect sloe gin recipe. Or as a little twist you can easily make sloe vodka by replacing the gin with vodka.
Sloes are the fruit of the blackthorn. A densely growing bush, packed with thorns, it’s often used in hedgerows to keep livestock in check. It’s a member of the prunus family, and like its more glamorous relatives, it’s dressed in white blossom throughout spring. This pretty display, combined with its overall hardiness, means that it features in many a suburban parkland.
The sloes themselves are spherical and cluster tightly along the branches. If the berries you have found are oval and dropping from stems, they are probably damsons. Pick the sloes that have ripened in the sunshine, as these will be sweeter than those in the shade. Always pick from waist height upwards – this will leave plenty on the bushes for the wildlife and means you will collect the cleanest berries.
There’s a bit of folklore about only collecting sloes after the first frost, which was used as a signpost in time. If the frosts had started, the sloes had probably been around long enough to be ripe.
However, there’s no need to wait this long. Early autumn is not only a more pleasant time to be out and about, but you can time your sloe harvest to the last of blackberries, meaning that you can have some instant gratification foraging along the way. You can also pick sloes as early as September and simply pop them in the freezer.
How do you drink sloe gin?
Sloe gin can be drunk on its own – you may find a spirit measure handy – and severed with ice and a slice of lemon. It is also delicious served with a mixer such as tonic water and ice cubes with a slice of lemon or orange.
How long does sloe gin last?
Provided your sloe gin is kept in an air-tight sealed bottle in a cool, dark spot then it should last approximately one year after opening.
How do you make sloe gin?
Follow our method below to make the perfect sloe gin to enjoy over the winter months or as a festive tipple.
After gathering your sloes, wash and remove any stems before pricking each sloe using a fork or cocktail stick. Pop in the freezer for a couple of hours.
Pop the frozen sloes into a 1.5 litre air-tight glass jar. Add the sugar and slowly pour in your chosen gin.
Keep your jar in a dark, cool spot, but for the first week each day bring it out and give the jar a good shake before replacing it. Once all the sugar has dissolved, leave it in the dark for as long as you can bear, three months at the very least. If you can make a year ahead before drinking for the best results.
Finally, strain the mixture through some muslin and decant into two clean bottles, and it will ready to serve either on its own or with a mixer such as tonic water.
To make a sloe spritz
This gin is lovely on its own, or reduced and drizzled onto cakes, but is also a great cocktail ingredient.
To make a sloe fizz, simply pour 25ml of sloe gin into a champagne glass and top with prosecco.