The sloe gin is a traditional British cocktail that has been around since the 1800s. It’s typically made with sloe berries, which are small purple-coloured wild plums found on blackthorn bushes.
The name “sloe” comes from the word “slough,” meaning to make something sour or tart.
Actually, sloe berries have been used to make inks in the past, and the leaves make a form of tea too. Meanwhile, the wood has traditionally been used for what the military refers to as ‘swagger sticks’.
Blackthorn was long associated with witchcraft, and it is said that witches’ wands and staffs were made using blackthorn wood.
If you’ve never tried making homemade sloe gin from blackthorn sloes (or prunus spinoza) in this article we provide all you need to know to make the perfect sloe gin.
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Where to Find Sloe Berries
The Blackthorn Bush is spiny and thickly branched, with trees reaching a height of up to 6–7 meters and living for up to 100 years. The dark brown bark is smooth, with thorns forming straight side shoots that develop into spikes.
The fruit of Blackthorn is a hermaphrodite, with both male and female reproductive organs found in the same bloom. single or in pairs, white blooms appear on short stalks prior to the leaves in March and April.
The location of your main ingredient for sloe gin is often a guarded secret as foragers are known to keep this information to themselves. If foraging is for you please remember to follow guidelines
That said, it is a widespread species that may be found across the UK. The amount of sloes on a blackthorn bush or tree each year is strongly influenced by the weather in the previous spring and summer. If it’s too dry, the sloes will be tiny and shrivelled. They won’t develop if it’s too wet and cold.
To ensure a crop year on year Gardentips360 would always advise that you grow your own Blackthorn Bush but if all else fails your local supermarket is likely to have a good supply in season.
Early flowering, blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the lackey, magpie, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed. It is also used by the black and brown hairstreak butterflies. Birds nest among the dense, thorny thickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves, and feast on the sloes in autumn.
When to pick sloes
The general guideline is that they should be turning ripe plum purple and mushy around November or December, with the exception of speciality varieties. They should be a rich dark purple and should crush easily between your fingertips. It’s an excellent indicator if they have begun to drop naturally to the ground.
Typically, you should wait until the first frost because the frost fractures the skins, allowing the juice to flow into your gin without you having to prick all of the berries. Picking them earlier is not a problem but you will need to refrigerate them.
Recipe: how to make sloe gin
Ingredients to make approx 1.5litres:
- sloe berries (450g)
- caster sugar (250g)
- Bottle of Gin (1 litre)
- fresh lemon juice (150ml)(optional)
- Take your sloe berries wash thoroughly then dry down with a cloth or paper towel. Place in an airtight container and freeze overnight or until you’re ready to produce the gin.
- Fill a sterilized jar or empty gin bottles halfway with frozen sloes. Add sugar and gin directly on top of the sloes, this should cause them to split which saves you the bother of prickling each berry one at a time.
- Once the sloes have thawed, seal the jar tightly and shake well.
- Once a day for seven days, give the jar a good shake. Store the jar in a cool, dark place and leave for two to three months.
- Line a sieve with a square of muslin placed over a bowl and strain the sloe gin through it. Pour into clean, dry bottles and seal and label them.
- Your homemade sloe gin is now ready to be consumed, but it will improve and mature with time – so if you can, wait at least one year before drinking.
Options when making sloe gin
Sloes vary considerably from one location to the next and from year to year. The flavour, character, and smoothness can be affected by the amount of sugar you add and the gin you choose.
They say never cook with a wine you wouldn’t normally drink and purest would say the same about gin. As a gin lover I have certainly tried a few so here are my tips based on the taste you are looking for.
Fruity sloe gin
These are some great gins to start with if you want to highlight and bring out the tang and sharpness of sloes while maintaining a smooth texture. They each have a bittersweet citrus character that pairs wonderfully with sloes and can enhance fruitiness, and they won’t break the bank.
Earthy & Classic sloe gin
Not only that, but many well-known gins include a blend of roots and other botanicals that can give your sloe gin an earthy undertone and make a great foundation for the rich fruitiness of the sloes. Boodles Gin and Tanqueray Gin, for example, contain no citrus botanicals.
Warming & spiced sloe gin
Many sloe gin aficionados enjoy adding cinnamon, cloves, and/or orange peel to their mix for a wintery, spiced, and comforting feel. If you want to go all out or just get subtleties of the tastes, try using gins with similar spiced and warming qualities in order to create the stunning depth of flavour
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does sloe gin last once opened?
We recommend drinking your Gin within one year of opening, depending on storage conditions. Once opened, oxidation begins immediately; however, you may not notice a significant change in flavour for many months.
What Bottles Should I use?
Clip-top bottles are ideal for sloe gin, and they look really great. If you want to give your sloe gin as a present to friends and family, clip-top bottles are the way to go.
Does sloe gin improve with age?
Sloe Gin gets better with age (to a point), so make more than you need and save some for next year.
How do you sterilise jars for sloe gin?
Remove the screw bands, wash and dry your jars/bottles, then pop them in the oven for 10 minutes or until thoroughly dry. If your jar has a metal or rubber seal/lid, put it in boiling water to sterilize it.
Does gin go off if not opened?
Gin is quite robust; if kept correctly, it will retain its quality and flavour after opening for years.
What is the best way to drink sloe gin?
It’s commonly sipped neat or in warm beverages like a hot toddy, but it’s also fantastic over ice, combined with a faint, neutral tonic and a rosemary sprig to pique your interest! A true Christmas favourite
Is drinking a bottle of gin a week too much?
If you listen to the experts, you should be drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week. … life can be so cruel!!!
Can you use Vodka
You may use vodka, don’t tell the purists, but you can. Many people prefer the purer flavour combination of vodka and sloes without the juniper and other botanical flavourings found in gin. If you’ve never created this sloe liqueur before it’s a treat that will not disappoint.
There are many perfect sloe gin recipes and are actually a lot of fun to use in cocktails. The sloe gin recipe you choose will depend on what type of sloe gin you want, fruity or earthy and classic sloe gins for example. When it comes down to it, the most important thing with any cocktail is that your ingredients are fresh and high quality! If you have questions about how to make sloe gin, let us know below in the comments section. We’ll be more than happy to answer them 🙂