Not Evangelism

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Make Sloe Gin (and Damson Gin too)

It's that time of year where the beautiful berries of the blackthorn can be seen cheekily gleaming from the hedgerows, and I sally forth to harvest a few to make my habitual ode to seasonality: sloe gin.

The fruit has been peeking from the hedgerows for the last couple of weeks in varying states of ripeness, and although I normally try and wait until September 1st, this week the temptation (and fear of losing a good crop to another picker!) was too much. As it happened, the first wild harvest was not sloes, but damsons; about the size of grapes, but heavier due to the weight of that big stone inside, and sporting that distinctive bluish blush.

The heavy work done, I sat down to make the first damson gin of 2010. Here's the trivially simple process so you can try it yourself.

What you'll need
  • Gin, as much as you fancy. It generally comes in bottles
  • Sloes, about equal in volume to your gin
  • A decent whack of sugar
  • A tight-sealable jar about twice the volume of your gin
  • A pointy thing, such as a cocktail stick (I use a wooden one).

How to do make sloe gin
  • Pick
  • Prick
  • Pour
  • Pause
  • Partake
Having picked and washed a quantity of sloes broadly equal in volume to a litre bottle of gin, I took a two-litre Kilner jar. Using the cocktail stick, I pricked each sloe a number of times and dumped them into the jar. This helps the juicy berry goodness to infuse in the gin, which is the whole point of the exercise.

When the jar was about half full of sloes, I poured in the sugar until the berries were pretty much covered, shaking the jar from time to time so that the sugar filled all the gaps between the berries. I used Fairtrade Golden Granulated sugar, but you'll doubtless choose sugar appropriate to your personal ethics and tastes. Or whatever is in the cupboard.

After a final shake, of the sugar and berries, I added the gin and gave it yet another good shake. The whole gin-berry-sugar concoction is now sitting in a dark cupboard. I'll give the jar a bit of a shake once a week or so to help the sugar dissolve. After a while, it'll have magically vanished into the by-then deep-purple liquid.

It'll take a fair while for the flavours to infuse properly, and you should expect to leave it three, four, or even six months before you strain off the fruit and begin sampling. The advantage of making sloe gin so early in the year is that it might just be ready in time for a Christmas tipple. Slurp!


  1. for goodness sake Andy, freeze the sloes and then use them defrosted. They will be soft and broken and you won't need to laborously prick each one.

  2. Hi Paddy, thanks for the suggestion.

    Freezing is something we do when we have a monster batch, or if the sloes are particularly small. In fact, we've got the next batch in the freezer right now.

    On this occasion, the damsons were a decent size, and it took no more than a few minutes to prick them between the two of us (and a glass of wine).