How to make sloe gin? Here’s how it’s done
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I’d never heard of sloes until a friend mentioned them while we were out running through the Hertfordshire countryside. Up until that point I’d been more preoccupied with the blackberries you can eat straight from the hedgerows instead. So what are sloes? Well they’re the berries of the hawthorn shrub, traditionally used in Britain to make “cattle-proof” hedges … so “wild” fruit with a helping human hand. On their own sloes taste particularly bitter, but when added to gin and mixed with sugar …. 🙂
So do you want to know how to make sloe gin? There’s a lot of mixed opinion out there regards how you should best make sloe gin. Essentially it’s pick sloes, mix in some sugar, add gin, and then wait 3 months! 🙂
In summary – how to make sloe gin
Time needed: 1 day.
How to make sloe gin – prepping your picked sloes
- Rinse your 450g of picked sloes and freeze overnight
Rinsing the sloes cleans off any dirt/bugs and allows you to spot any manky ones. Place them in a Tupperware box and freeze them overnight to help split the skins when they thaw out.
- Sterilize two 1 litre bottles
Meanwhile in preparation for the sloes being ready use Kilner bottles bought from Wilko and sterilised them. We used Milton sterilising tablets. This is so they are nice and clean and feels the right thing to do.
- Take the sloes out of the freezer and allow to fully thaw out
The next day remove the sloes from the freezer and allow them to thaw. The sloes “should” now have split open which allows the juices to infuse the gin when you get to that stage below.
- Prick any sloes that haven’t split with a wooden cocktail stick
This shouldn’t be as mind-numbing as it sounds and will make for tastier sloe gin.
- Half fill each of the two bottles with the sloes
Don’t worry about being too precise. Whether you go slightly over or under doesn’t matter too much. You can always add a few more sloes if the 1 litre bottle of gin doesn’t then reach the top of each bottle
- Add 175g – 225g of castor sugar to each bottle
Add the lower amount if you want it less sweet. You can always add a little sugar if you need to when you eventually get around to drinking it.
- Add the gin to each bottle within 1-2 inches from the top
I bought a 1 litre bottle of Gordon’s gin for my sloe gin. Pour the gin carefully into each bottle. A small plastic funnel can help prevent any spillages. Doing this after adding the sugar prevents the sugar blocking up the funnel.
- Replace the lids and give the bottles a careful shake.
This will make sure all the sugar gets dissolved and allows the gin to get into all the bottles’ nooks and crannies.
- Store the bottles horizontally in a dark cupboard
Shake slightly and turn 180 degrees every couple of months (if you can remember this – no drama if you forget).
- After 3 months decant into clean bottles and seal
This is an optional step. Strain the sloe gin through some muslin to remove any impurities/bits ‘n’ bobs that might be in the bottles still. Otherwise just leave them in their originals bottles.
- Look forward to drinking your sloe gin
Drink yours at Christmas just 3 months after picking. Or if you can bear to wait that long leave them until the NEXT Christmas so the gin has had time to mature
The finer detail to picking and making sloes
Finding the sloes
The first step in learning how to make sloe gin is actually getting hold of some sloes! The actually picking part. My friend Jake and his little daughter took me to a particularly fruitful location alonside a famer’s field in-between Hitchin and Pirton in Hertfordshire. The south facing side of the footpath had allowed the sloes to fatten up in the sunshine. The best bushes being in natural dips where they had been better watered too. NB. Hitchin is where doctor foster was filmed and is also well-known for its lavender and sunflower fields.
Take along a strong carrier bag or better still a big Tupperware container with 450g being about right to half fill a 1 liter Kilner bottle when you get back home. As it’s never easy to determine weight when standing without scales on a footpath I picked a bit extra just in case and needed up with 1.2kg! Once back home optionally sterilise your airtight bottle(s) (I used Milton baby sterilising tablets) or alternatively swill it out with boiling water (careful here as bottles can crack) and then half fill them with the defrosted fruit (about 450g).
Should you pick them after the first frost?
Traditionalists suggest waiting for the “first frost” but Jamie Oliver’s blog post simply suggested picking them when they were “ripe and ready”; when you can pop the berries easily between your finger and thumb. The first frost might simply not coincide with when they’re ripening! Generally wait until they’re bigger, riper and softer and not small and harder. Even then the “bigger” ones tend to be higher up out of reach of course unless you can find a secret, unknown bush. We happened to pick ours at the start of October.
Should you prick the skins or put them in the freezer?
Pricking the skins allows the juices to flow out of the sloes when immersed in the gin. However adding them to the freezer overnight stimulates the “first frost”, and expands the fruit so when they defrost the skin will have naturally split essentially doing the same thing. I pricked the odd one that hadn’t split with a cocktail stick.
Should you add castor sugar before or after?
Some say before but others say you don’t know how much you’ll need until you actually taste it, so it’s better to sugar it to taste using a syrup mixture at the time of opening. However I added mine before so the sugar could help allow the full flavour to be extracted from the sloes. Why does this have to be so confusing?!
How much castor sugar?
One blog suggested two big spoonfuls. Not too useful when they didn’t specify the spoon size! Other recipes I saw suggested 225g … which is a lot … and the amount I used for my 1 litre bottle. That did make it taste a bit like undiluted Ribena though so on subsequent attempts I added just 175g.
How long should you leave it before you drink it?
Some say a minimum of two months is needed for the drink to mature (so just in time for Christmas) whereas others specify a minimum of 3 months, while yet others suggest the longer you leave it the better (like years)! I’m having one mid Feb (a 4 month wait) and saving the other bottle for next Christmas.
What type of gin to use?
Another bone of contention in how to make sloe gin. 1 liter of gin will actually make 2 liter bottles of sloe gin as the sloes take up half of the space. Some websites say cheap gin makes cheap sloe gin, but others say the tastes of the sloes is strong enough to overwhelm the flavor anyway. You decide. I went somewhere in the middle with a bottle of Gordon’s London gin
Once sloes, gin and sugar have been added together (I found the order of sloes > sugar > gin worked best) shake for half a minute and then lay on its side in a dark cupboard. Then every other day give a little shake and twist 180 degrees for 2 months. Then strain the sloe gin through muslin into another bottle come drinking time in case the old maggot, stalk, leave is still in there.
So if sticking to the first frost approach then the start of November looks a good time to go picking. If keen to get going now, pick them and simply stick them in the freezer overnight. This will simulate that first frost, split the skins, and once defrosted will allow them to release more of their juices come the actual gin drinking time. So now you know how to make sloe gin 🙂