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How to make sloe gin

The fruit of blackthorn bushes are a classic flavouring for gin. Follow our recipe to make your own spirit.

Sloe gin with a wedge of stilton cheese. © Getty

Sloes are the fruit of blackthorn, a tree that is particularly recognisable in spring when it is adorned with white flowers (similar to hawthorn flowers, though blackthorn is in bloom earlier. Find out more in our guide to identifying hawthorn and blackthorn).

Sloes are rarely eaten raw as the taste is so sharp, however they can be used in a variety of foraging recipes, the most popular of which is sloe gin.

This recipe also works for bullace and damsons, which are the larger relatives of sloes, and all three can be combined with vodka instead of gin.

Sloes on a blackthorn bush. © Getty
Sloes on a blackthorn bush. © Getty

When should sloes be picked?

Sloes should be picked when ripe and rich dark blue-purple in colour, and can be squashed. Some may have already fallen to the ground naturally.

Traditionally sloes shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost, as it’s thought the frost splits the skin. However, you can recreate this effect by putting your sloes in the freezer overnight.

Freezing sloes is also helpful for when you don’t have time to make the sloe gin straight away.

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Ingredients

  • Gin 1 litre, A cheap brand will do
  • Sloes 450g
  • Caster sugar 220g

Method

  • Step 1

    Rinse the sloes, then prick the skin of the sloes with a small fork or needle, then place the sloes in a large sterilised bottle or Kilner jar. Pour in the sugar and then the gin. Seal tightly and shake several times.

    Sloe berries in weighing scales. © Whistle Video/Getty
    Sloe berries in weighing scales. © Whistle Video/Getty
  • Step 2

    Place in a dark, cool place such as a cupboard – this is really important or you will lose the liquid’s lovely ruby colour. Invert the container every two days for a week. Repeat once a week for at least eight to ten weeks. Taste to check the sweetness – you can add more sugar if necessary.

    Sloe gin. © PABImages/Getty
    Sloe gin. © PABImages/Getty
  • Step 3

    Finally, strain the sloe gin through muslin or a pair of tights into sterilised bottles – if you want to use these sloes again, check out this recipe for making sloe port.

    The sloe gin should be ready to enjoy by Christmas! It’s a wonderful accompaniment for desserts, cheese or mince pies. It can be served neat, with tonic or added to sparkling wine or champagne, and can also be used in this autumnal berry cocktail recipe.

    Sloe gin with a wedge of stilton cheese. © Getty
    Sloe gin with a wedge of stilton cheese. © Getty

This recipe originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Look inside the current issue and find out how to subscribe.

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