A 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. 

A wide-bottomed bottle and glass filled with sloe gin

The transformation of gin into sweet autumnal sloe gin is very simple and requires just three ingredients. However, you do need patience to achieve the very best results. It takes two to three months for the flavours to infuse, but it is truly worth the wait. If you 'accidently' forget a bottle at the back of the cupboard for even longer, the flavour can become spectacular.

If you make a large batch, it can be decanted into decorative bottles to 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, should you wish to experiment further with this versatile spirit.
 

How to forage for sloe berries

A cluster of sloe berries on a bush

  • 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 for more foraging tips.


Basic sloe gin recipe

Ingredients

  • 500g ripe sloe berries
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 1 litre gin

Method

  1. 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. 
  2. Add the sugar then pour in the gin. Seal the jar tightly and give it a good shake.
  3. 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.
  4. Strain the gin through a sieve or funnel lined with a square of muslin into a jug or bowl.
  5. 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.

Tip

  • 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 sloe gin recipe and watch the video below:

Sloe gin drinks and dishes

Now that your sloe gin is ready to drink, why not mix it into some fabulous cocktails, mulled drinks, sauces or sweet treats?

Sloe gin cocktails

Sloe gin & juniper cocktail

If you are throwing a festive get-together, sloe gin can be used as a base for a range of cocktails. Combine with lemon juice and juniper syrup to create a beautiful botanical blend or 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

See our guide to making these easy sloe gin cocktails

Mulled sloe gin drinks

Two glasses of mulled pear and cranberry with cinnamon sticks

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's 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

Sloe gin cranberry sauce in a white pot, with a ladle

Bored of ordinary cranberry sauce? Give this classic Christmas condiment a boozy kick from sloe gin and juniper berries. The ruby-red garnish is sure to be a big hit, so make enough to eat with turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day.

Sloe gin cranberry sauce

Sloe gin & fruit sponge puddings

Fruit sponge pudding covered in a sticky jam sauce, on a plate

Steamed fruit sponges are the ultimate in comfort food. 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. 

Sloe gin & fruit sponge puddings with custard

Pan-fried venison with sloe gin & plum sauce

Pan-fried venison covered in a dark plum and sloe gin sauce on a plate

Not just a one-trick pony, the mighty sloe lends a deep, fruity flavour to many savoury dishes. Combine sloe gin with plums and juniper berries in this rich, velvety sauce to pour over venison for a comforting autumn main.

Pan-fried venison with sloe gin & plum sauce

Mini eclairs with sloe gin icing

Mini eclairs in a row with pink and purple icing and sprinkles

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.

Mini eclairs

Discover more recipe ideas 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.

Fancy trying more infusions? We've got plenty of ideas

How to make flavoured gin
How to make flavoured vodka
How to make flavoured spirits
The best gin cocktails, recipes and tips

Are you a fan of sloe gin? Do you make your own? Leave a comment below... 

Comments, questions and tips

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ann.brandish@ic...
13th Oct, 2014
I am making my own sloe gin for the first time this year, together with blackberry liquor and limoncello (recipe of your website) which is lush! Looking forward to the tasting around Christmas.
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th1rza
26th Sep, 2013
When I make sloe gin I freeze the sloes & then add the heated gin( when u you see the first bubbles agitating thro' take off the heat ) to the frozen sloes that you have completely covered in sugar. The heated gin ( you don't want to destroy the alcohol content), will split the sloe's skin & save that ghastly job of pricking every sloe!! It is delicious, much better than the 'shop bought'sloe gin.
ferial.etherington@btinternet.com's picture
ferial.ethering...
19th Jun, 2019
Thanks th1rza. That's really helpful. I make my own sloe gin and hate having to prick them. I always prick my fingers as well. Blood in the mix is not a good one!