The Handbook
The Handbook

Gin’s sweeter little sister, sloe, is the perfect tipple to cosy up with on long autumn nights. Here’s how to make it for yourself. 

Also known as wild plums, damson plums or blackthorn berries, sloes are now in season, ready for picking and itching to be made into velvety, rich berry-hued gin. Plus, with the new Tier 2 rules hitting London this weekend, sloe picking it the perfect outdoor activity to do with a small group of friends, Covid-secure and out in the open. It’s also a great drink to serve up in a socially distanced garden set up – just bring blankets, warm knits and ideally an outdoor heater. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the sour little berries that were made to be married with our liquor of choice.

Where to find sloe berries

Before you go out asking the locals where the nearest sloe tree or bush is, it’s good to know that sloes come from the blackthorn tree, a thorny hedgerow plant. They look a little like juniper berries  – a deep purple/blue colour with light pale coating on top which can be wiped away with your hands – and you’ll spot the difference between blackthorn bushes and junipers with a few key signs; blackthorn leaves are more oval in shape, lighter green and the bushes themselves are much larger. 

Londoners will be delighted to know they don’t have to travel out of the city to pick their own. Sloes have been found growing in Hampstead Heath, Mile End, Wormwood Scrubs Park, Dulwich Wood, Wandsworth Common and Horsenden Hill. 

Good to know

Before you go out foraging, make sure you check out local foraging rules for parks and open spaces and to ensure you’re not actually picking from someone’s sprawling back garden. 

When to pick them

Sloe berries are at their finest after the first frost which usually happens between late October and early November here in the UK. For those seasoned in sloe picking, you traditionally pick them with a thorn taken from the bush itself and use that to prick the berries, but if you can’t wait until the weather gets chillier, simply pick the berries on their own, allow to ripen a little and then freeze, which will basically do the same thing as pricking. 

Or, bypass the faff and buy fresh Norfolk and Suffolk sloes online from sloeberries.org.uk

What they taste like

Tart and sour: you definitely don’t want to be eating these fresh. Best to cook them down into festive-style sauces (a bit like cranberry sauce), add to traditional fruit puddings or, our favourite, infuse into gin. 

Health benefits

Sloes come with a bounty of good benefits, from potassium to magnesium, antioxidants to essential fatty acids. Sadly, when added to lashings of gin, their virtuousness goes somewhat out the window. 

How to make sloe gin

If you really want your sloe gin to taste good, it takes time and a little bit of love. Two to three month’s worth of love should do it (although you can let it sit for up to a year) to allow the gin to mature and gain a rich, rounded flavour. Start now and you’ll have gin to make into charming homemade gifts for loved ones this Christmas. 

Ingredients:

  • 500g ripe sloe berries
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 1 litre gin 

Tip: we like to use Bombay Sapphire, Sipsmith or Tanquerey for a classic, earthy sloe gin flavour.

Method:

  1. Wash the berries in cold water, prick them all over using a cocktail stick and pat dry with a tea towel. 
  2. Put into a sealable 2 litre glass jar and add the sugar and the gin. Make sure the jar is well sealed. 
  3. For the next seven days, shake the jar and then store in a cool, dark place for at least two to three months. You should swirl the jar from time to time, but you don’t need to be meticulous about doing it every day. Store like this for up to a year for a fuller flavour. 
  4. Once ready to decant, strain the sloe gin through a sieve with a square of clean muslin set over a bowl. Divide up into dry, clean bottles and seal. 

Shake up your sloe

Simply pour over ice, top up with a good quality tonic water and garnish with fresh lime, or use your sloe gin to make autumnal Negronis, a champagne topped Sloe Gin Fizz or a classic Charlie Chaplin with orange peel and brandy.


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