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Sloe gin for complete newbies

by Woifey

A very dear chum of mine and his new lassie have just decided to have a go at sloe gin making. Looking to me as the purveyor of kitchen witchery, they asked for advice. It occurred to me to post my emailed response here just in case anyone is still looking for a hand-hold during the sloe season Wink

"Sloe gin, eh? As it happens, we know a thing or three about that in this house. Here's a basic tour.

First off, picking sloes. You want to get them, ideally, when they have had a nip of frost as that softens the skins and makes the pricking easier. That said, if you have found a bush of (unfrosted) ripe sloes, pick them, as, if you don't, some other beggar will. Pick as many as you can, because (a) sloe gin is delicious and (b) sloes freeze well and are good for other things like hedgerow preserves. Pick them on a dry day if possible, but you're going to wash them anyhow (to kill off any wild yeasts and stop your gin from fermenting; not a good thing.)

So, once you've got your nice dry sloes and a litre of gin - I buy White Satin as an entry level, because you can't make a decent brew with turps- you're about ready. You will also need caster sugar, a (folklore dictates silver) needle and a wide necked jar- a 1.5 litre Kilner jar is good, if you don't have a demijohn and don't want to acquire one. That way lies Country Wine Making and all that entails...

So, sloes picked over, washed and dried, you have two choices. Tradition or cheating. Tradition is: prick each sloe 7 times with a needle and pop them all into your jar. Cheating is freeze the sloes overnight as this will split the skins for you. For small amounts I do the traditional thing; if I have a lot of sloes, I bulk freeze.  Anyhow, the sloes are in the jar. A pound or so will do a litre of gin, the more the merrier. Additives: sugar- about 6 oz if you want a dryish brew, up to 12 if you have a sweet tooth. I measure by eye and veer towards 8 oz. Some people add bitter almond essence but I never have. Add the sugar to the sloes and top up with gin. Clamp down your Kilner jar and swirl to dissolve the sugar. It won't all go at once  but if you swirl it gently every day, it will dissolve. You then leave the jar quietly in a cool dark place and visit it once a week to swirl it round and talk to it. Check it's not fermenting while you're at it- it really shouldn't do.

In about 6 months' time, you'll be ready to strain the gin. Do this by tipping it slowly into a muslin-lined sieve or funnel. When you have a gorgeous clear ruby-coloured gin, bottle it up and forget it for at least a year. Longest is best and we have some 1999 gin to try. You are making this year's gin to drink in 2012's Yule season at the earliest. Leftover sloes are a thing of beauty and can be made into slodka or slider. Slodka- put them back into the jar with a bottle of cheap vodka and a bit more sugar. Leave it a couple of months and strain- you will then have something that's ready to drink whilst you're waiting for the gin to mature. Slider - do the same thing but steep your sloes in some rough (still) farmhouse scrumpy. Another good one.

And then, throw the seeds in the compost. If you're lucky you'll get seedlings like ours and in 10 years you might get sloes.

Other hedgerow drinks to consider are blackberry brandy (same idea, using dry ripe blackberries and a reputable brandy) and blackcurrant rum, which is past its season now but good to know about once you've made sloe gin. Also bullace and damson gins, both of which I have on at the mo' because Anne Marie put me onto some beautiful bullaces and damsons. Damsons you'll know; bullaces are small bitter wild plums, in between sloes and damsons for size. Sloes have lethal thorns, bullaces & damsons don't. If you do a damson drink, you can then stone the damsons and add them to a crumble with apples as they are sweet and edible. Sloes and bullaces will pucker your faces and if the wind changes, you'll stick.

I hope this helps- the key thing is to pick the sloes before some other sod gets near them :-) "

last edited on
by MrsStubbs

My friend Helen, who is a High Up scientist type, carried out a series of experiments making sloe gin last year and she concluded:

- cheapest gin was best; and

- never ever put almond essence in your sloe gin.

by shan

Add a plum, a handful of raisins, 4 prunes, 1 vanilla pod and a handful of damsons to your sloe gin preparation and you have the most amazing hedgerow gin!

Chickens, sheep, pigs, ducks and geese.
last edited on
by Woifey
Posted by: MrsStubbs

My friend Helen, who is a High Up scientist type, carried out a series of experiments making sloe gin last year and she concluded:

- cheapest gin was best; and

- never ever put almond essence in your sloe gin.

I see no need for almond essence, but I'm a bit of a snob about my gin. Thank heavens for Aldi Wink Still & all, I will use whatever disreputable cheap spirit I can for "secon pressings"...


Shan, I usually pop a vanilla pod into my blackberry brandy. The one that's infused several custards and is comiong to the end of its life but is "still useful" Wink

by grotz

Woifey - great post very helpful and great reading. Love the idea of blackberry brandy or rum and we still have loads of sweet blackberries around.

Not sure about the fermenting bit though as the amount of alcohol present should suppress any yeast action. Still a good idea to wash them though, don't want any bird poo in the broo!

Agree about no almond essence it just makes it bitter.

As for the thorny question about bullace, my tree has some thorns on it but they tend to only be at the thicker end of branches with no thorns near the fruit.

by Woifey

Laughing Thanks!

I used to make rumtopf quite a lot, and despite the high levels of booze involved, I ended up with a nasty ferment a couple of times, so I'm always wary...

by jojobean

Wonderful guide Woifey - a lovely read & even lovlier results......hic.....Smile

by alchemist

Thanks Woifey. Am always confused about the amount of sugar as recipes give so many different amounts.

by Woifey

I reckon it's because sweetness (or otherwise) is a v personal thing. Recipe writers write to their own tastes, I suppose. I always err on the side of dryness, but have had a hugely sticky black cherry vodka at a mate's house, too- nice by the teaspoonful, but would dissolve your teeth by the glass!

Fast Nick
by Fast Nick

Thanks for that, Woifey!

By coincidence, I am going to have a go at making sloe gin for the first time ever this year, so your newbies guide came along at just the right moment Smile

I like to do my bit for global warming, and so I make sure I use my 400 bhp V8 monster EVERY day.....
by doniv

Guess I'm a bit of a "Redneck" then ! Sad 


I just wang a bunch of sloes in a bottle 'til it's half full - pour on sugar - & shake a bit until the gaps between the sloes are filled with sugar - top up with Lidls cheapest Gin & give it a little shake every day until the sugar's all dissolved.


Then drink it off the sloes by putting a finger over the end of the bottle to stop them falling out ! - IF any makes it to Xmas I'll buy YOU a drink Wink


no fussy pricking of the sloes & they get chucked away with the bottle afterwards ! 



'Tis the time's plague, when madmen lead the blind. - Shakespear - King Lear
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