A beginner's guide to sloe gin
Sloe gin is a fruity liqueur that can be served neat, with a mixer or even used in cooking. Read on to learn how to forage for sloe berries and make your own gin.
If you want to have a go at infusing your own alcohols at home, sloe gin is a great place to start. The transformation of sloes into sweet autumnal sloe gin is very simple and requires just three ingredients. It is the perfect way to use up a glut of sloe gins if you are lucky enough to have a tree of your own or if you've been foraging (we've got top tips below).
However, you do need patience to achieve the very best results when making sloe gin. It takes two to three months for the flavours to infuse, but it is truly worth the wait. If you 'accidentally' forget a bottle at the back of the cupboard for even longer, the flavour can become spectacular as it continues to infuse. If you make a large batch, it can be decanted into decorative bottles for a boozy edible gift at Christmas after it's been steeped and strained.
Read our easy guide to foraging sloe berries, then follow our step-by-step instructions for using them to make sloe gin. We've also got several recipe suggestions for how to make the most of your delicious and versatile spirit once it is ready to enjoy - from cocktails to puddings.
How to forage for sloe berries
- Sloes are the small purple wild plums of the blackthorn tree that can often be found in hedgerows.
- Small clusters emerge during late summer, but they're best between September and November.
- Never forage anything without consulting a reference book or foraging expert first, and steer clear if you are unsure. Blackthorn, as its name suggests, has sharp thorns, so be very careful when picking and wear appropriate gloves and clothing.
- Ideally, choose berries that are growing at waist-height and upwards, as they tend to be cleaner. Favour those that have ripened in the sunshine rather than those shaded by dense bush.
- Ripe berries will have a dark blue-purple colour and should squash easily between your fingers.
- Some recipes suggest pricking the sloes with a needle or only picking sloes after the first frost. There is nothing wrong with this advice, but it isn’t essential. The frost can be emulated by freezing the sloes before using. Both methods are used to help break the skin ever so slightly, which slowly releases the juices into the spirit.
Read our guide to foraging for more tips.
Basic sloe gin recipe
- 500g ripe sloe berries
- 250g golden caster sugar
- 1 litre gin
- Rinse the sloes and pat dry with a tea towel. Prick with a stainless steel fork or cocktail stick, then tip into a clean 2-litre jar.
- Add the sugar then pour in the gin. Seal the jar tightly and give it a good shake.
- Put the jar in a cool, dark place (such as a kitchen cupboard) and leave to infuse for two to three months, giving it a shake every week or so if you can.
- Strain the gin through a sieve or funnel lined with a square of muslin into a jug or bowl.
- Decant into clean, dry bottles, then seal and label. The sloe gin is now ready to drink, but the flavour will improve and mature over time. If you can wait, store the bottles in a dark place until next year before drinking.
- You could experiment with extra flavours. Try adding warming spices such as cinnamon, ginger, star anise, cloves or nutmeg.
For more detailed instructions, see our full sloe gin recipe and watch the video below:
Sloe gin recipe ideas
Now that your sloe gin is ready to drink, why not mix it into some fabulous cocktails, mulled drinks, sauces or sweet treats? We've got plenty of recipe ideas below, and discover even more in our sloe gin collection, or get imaginative with your own creations. Whether it's added to a stock reduction, used to sweeten a tagine or flavour a crumble or simply drizzled over ice cream for a quick dessert, a bottle of sloe gin in the kitchen never goes amiss. Want to swap in another spirit? Why not make our sloe vodka recipe instead? It uses a similar method to the above.
If you simply don't have time to make your own or want to give it a try first, check out our review of the best sloe gins you can buy, from traditional flavours to creative variations.
Sloe gin fizz
A stylish way to show off your sloe gin. This simple sloe gin fizz recipe is a festive twist on a spritz, combining the tangy gin with lemon juice and sugar syrup to balance the flavours, then topping up with sparkling water. If you like extra sweetness, you could try with lemonade instead of sparkling water.
Sloe gin cocktail
Our sloe gin cocktail recipe showcases the autumnal flavours and botanical notes of the sloe gin by pairing with a homemade juniper syrup, made using juniper berries, another hedgerow hero. Served short over plenty of crushed ice, it makes a great talking point at a festive get together.
For a Christmas or New Year's party, bring out the fizz and serve a sparkling sloe royale made with sloe gin, prosecco and edible glitter. Or, add an extra fruity twist to the classic royale with a dash of sweet cherry brandy, as in our hedgerow royale.
Spiced mulled wine
As winter rolls in, the prospect of warming mulled wine or punch becomes ever more welcoming. A splash of sloe gin makes an excellent addition to our spiced mulled wine, as it is complemented by festive cloves, cinnamon and star anise. Or, stir up an aromatic concoction of mulled pear, cranberry & sloe punch in a large casserole dish to share with a crowd.
Sloe gin cranberry sauce
Bored of ordinary cranberry sauce? Give this classic Christmas condiment a boozy kick from sloe gin and juniper berries in our sloe gin cranberry sauce. The ruby-red garnish is sure to be a big hit, so make enough to eat with turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day.
Sloe gin & fruit sponge puddings
Steamed fruit sponges are the ultimate in comfort food. These sloe gin & fruit sponge puddings with custard give a retro classic a boozy twist. Soak the berries in sherry overnight and incorporate sloe gin into both the mixture and sticky jam sauce for a sophisticated twist that will round off an adult dinner party in style.
Pan-fried venison with sloe gin & plum sauce
Not just a one-trick pony, the mighty sloe lends a deep, fruity flavour to many savoury dishes. This pan-fried venison with sloe gin & plum sauce combines fruity sloe gin with plums and juniper berries in a rich, velvety sauce to pour over venison for a comforting autumn main.
Mini eclairs with sloe gin icing
Got a penchant for patisserie? Then you'll be pleased to hear that even choux buns can benefit from a boozy berry injection. Glam up these delicate French-style pastries with a sloe gin-flavoured icing to instantly elevate afternoon tea – find the recipe for our mini eclairs with sloe gin icing here.
Fancy trying more infusions? We've got plenty of ideas
Are you a fan of sloe gin? Do you make your own? Leave a comment below...