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Making Sloe Gin

23 September 2022

Making Sloe Gin



Not so long ago the home kitchen was a veritable hive of booze based activity. As household cookbooks like those published by The Women’s Institute will testify to. The Manufacture of wines, cordials and liqueurs was a commonplace as the baking of bread or making jams. Gin was a popular candidate for all manner of fruit infusions and that goes for out of the home too, where the big distillers of the day sold lemon and orange flavoured gins with some success. These days flavoured gins have all but died out and despite the emergence of some contemporary gin brands choosing to flavour and sweeten their product (see the distillery pages of this book) it is only sloe gin that has truly stood the test of time. And the manufacture of sloe gin stands as one of the few alcohol based culinary crafts that remains in the British housekeeper's repertoire. 

Before we dive in head first it’s important to stress that on the subject of manufacturing sloe gin we must tread very carefully indeed. There is no other line of conversation that can send handbag ripples through a Women’s Institute tea room like the finer points of gin/fruit infusions. What began as a wholesome household craft is now seen by some as a classical art form, shrouded in superstition and mystery. As for the sloe berry itself, there is a fruit that, to some, holds a position of near divine reverence, reflected in the manner in which it must be treated prior to and during sloe gin preparation. 


Some older recipes for sloe gin suggest waiting until after the seasons ‘first frost’ before picking the berries. At first this might seem an attempt at some biodynamic strategy (allowing the heavens to align before foraging for the fruit) and explained away by most as nature’s way of softening the fruits skin prior to infusion. Science tells us that the hydrogen cyanide (natural antifreeze) content of the fruit increases during cold snaps and imparts a desirable almond character to the liqueur, similar to bitter almond kernels of apple pips. If hydrogen cyanide sounds a bit dangerous to you that’s because it is.   In my experience the first frost generally lands a little too late in the year anyway and runs the risk of losing the crop altogether. One option is to make your own frost by picking the ripe fruit and briefly freezing them before infusion, although that won’t . I’ve heard of others who choose to prick the sloe berries one by one before mixing with the gin, in a process so arduous that it has been clinically proven to gradually erode the mind of it's psychical capabilities and is now officially classified under the human rights act as a form of prolonged mental torture. Traditionally this is done with one of the thorns off the blackthorn tree from whence the sloes were picked, but a needle will do it just fine, so long as it is made from silver (naturally).

The point is that everyone has their own method that’s been handed down from one generation to the next. For better or worse, most people are fairly stubborn when it comes to cherished family recipes and as quaint as this may sound, traditions such as these are often tough nuts to crack when it comes to enforcing some logical culinary processes in to the mix.

We make sloe gin using two different methods. Both work very well and both require very little time. The first is to cook the sloe berries, in gin, sous vide. This means packing both fruit a liquor in to ziplock bag (or vacuum packing bag) and holding it in a temperature controlled water bath for a few hours. Afterwards the mixture is strained-off and sweetened. This method extracts more bitterness than a cold infusion, which means the liquor can take a touch more sugar, resulting in a more concentrated shot of juice.

Our second technique is a ‘cold’ method and it calls for the use of a blender. It isn’t pretty or particularly efficient, and it certainly isn’t the way your mother would do it, but it gets the job done quickly, and easy. It also makes for a good talking point around the Christmas table. Blending the sloes and gin together makes a fine purée that requires only a short infusion followed by a slightly longer filtering process.

In both methods you’ll find you need comparatively less sloes and far less finger tapping than in the traditional recipes. 

Sous Vide/Osmosis Method (makes approximately 1 litre)

  • 500g sloe berries (You can flash freeze them to soften the skins, but it’s not essential)
  • 250g sugar
  • 500g gin
  • 10g malic acid
  • 5g salt

Using a large zip-lock or vacuum bag, add the sloes, 100g of the sugar, the acid, and salt. Give it a good shake and a bit of a squash and leave to sit in the fridge overnight. In the morning you’ll find a lot of the juice has leached out. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the gin, then seal the bag and drop it in to a water bath set at 65°C. Leave to cook for 3 hours. You can go hotter and quicker, but this is the best balance of flavour, efficiency, and time for me. Remove the bag and filter the liquid through a fine mesh filter and cheesecloth - even better if you can get hold of a Superbag - an inexpensive brand of micron filter. Pour the filtered liquid in to a sterile bottle. It should keep for years.

Blender Method

  • 500g sloe berries
  • 100g warm water
  • 500g gin
  • 200g sugar
  • 10g malic acid
  • 5g salt

Start with sloes at room temperature, as they tend to give up their juices more readily. Add them to the blender along with the water and most of the gin. Blend on a high speed in ten second bursts for a couple of minutes. The aim is to puree everything without the liquid heating up too much through friction. Pass the puree through a coarse sieve using the back of a spoon to push all the juice out. Then pass through a finer sieve, doing the same, followed by a cheesecloth or Superbag. Use what’s left of the gin to ‘wash’ any flavour out of the left over fruit pulp. Add the sugar, acid and salt and bottle the liqueur. Keep in a warm place for a few hours until the sugar has completely dissolved. Serve chilled.