How To Make Sloe Gin: Everything you need know to harvest your own sloes and make your own sweet winter warmer

Summer may be over but with autumn comes ripening fruit fit for foragers, including the sloe berry that can be used to make a tempting tipple to help get you through the winter.
A few simple steps - and a bit of patience - can turn virtually inedible sloe berries into delicious sloe gin.A few simple steps - and a bit of patience - can turn virtually inedible sloe berries into delicious sloe gin.
A few simple steps - and a bit of patience - can turn virtually inedible sloe berries into delicious sloe gin.

The sloe berry is the fruit of the blackthorn tree, which is widespread across Scotland and has a rich tradition in Celtic culture.

Centuries ago the berries were reputed to have magical powers, playing a major part in the herbal medicine of the day, while the tree itself signified death and warfare.

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In Scottish witchcraft the start of winter was marked with a ceremony that would see the ground thrashed with a blackthorn staff.

These traditions may have vanished into the mists of time, but the sloe is now used to create sloe gin – one of the few modern uses for a berry that all but the hardiest of bird species find inedible.

Here’s everything you need to know about making the drink.

Where can I find sloe berries?

Blackthorn trees grow all over Scotland, being particularly common in hedgerows between fields.

Matters are complicated somewhat by the fact that not all blackthorn trees will bear fruit every year for a number of reasons, including over-harvesting.

Sloe hunters can be protective about their favourite spots, but if you take a long walk in the countryside around farmland you have every chance of happening upon a tree covered in the fruit.

If you’re lucky you might even spot them in town and city parks – just invest in a tree identification guide to make sure you’re picking the right berries.

When should I pick sloe berries?

It’s said that the berries ripen after the first frost of the year, which tends to happen towards the end of October.

If you come upon a decent haul prior to then though – and can’t return later – you can pick them early and pop them in the freezer for a few days to artificially complete the ripening process.

What ingredients do I need to make sloe gin?

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Aside from the obvious sloe berries, you will need 100g white sugar, a bottle of your favourite (non-flavoured) gin and a sterilised bottle.

How to make sloe gin?

Take a pin and prick the skin of each washed sloe (traditionally this would be done with a thorn taken from the blackthorn tree you harvested the berries from) until you have enough to fill the bottle up to about 7cm.

Put the sloes into the bottle, add the sugar and fill the remainder of the bottle up with gin, before giving it a good shake.

Store the bottle in a dark cupboard, or somewhere else away from direct sunlight, and give it a shake every day for a week to help dissolve the sugar.

Continue to store in your dark place of choice for around three months, by which time it will be ready to drink.

Decant the sloe gin into bottles by pouring it through muslin.

For the best tasting gin – if you can bear not to drink it – it’s best to leave it to mature for a further year.

If you decant it into smaller bottles it makes a great home-made Christmas present.

How to drink sloe gin

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Traditionally sloe gin is drunk neat or as a sweetening addition to a hot toddy.

It can also be drunk with tonic and ice, with a sprig of rosemary to garnish, or mixed with fizz to make a delicious aperitif.

For the more adventurious a quick search on the internet will find a variety of cocktails using sloe gin that will suit all tastes.

Read more:

Scran season 6: Edinburgh's history of gin



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