Time to Make Sloe Gin

The sloe (Prunus spinosa) is a prickly beast. In order to brave the dangers of picking its bloomy fruit, it helps to understand the wonders of sloe gin. Faithfully brewed in the pantries of English country houses since Victorian times, this wonderful drink (known in our family, and doubtless many others, as ‘sluggins’) is a great way of converting a wholly unpalatable fruit into a rather memorable experience. To make it, the sloes are macerated with sugar and gin and then left to their own devices in a cool dark place. After a few months you’ll have a wonderful, warming winter liqueur, great after brisk country walks, guaranteed to bring a smile to your cheeks and the circulation back to your toes.

I give you two recipes, one from Dad (via Constance Spry), the other from my friend Georgie. Try them both – then you can have a [blind?] tasting:


Makes about 1.5 litres

850g sloes
350g sugar
1 litre gin
a few drops almond essence

Remove stalks from the sloes and prick them all over with a pin
Put them in a wide-necked bottle or Kilner jar with a lid
Add the sugar, gin and almond essence
Shake up well, then leave in a cool dark place to macerate for at least 3 months, turning the bottle gently and reverently from time to time to mix well
After this time, (according to my father’s succinct hand-written instructions) ‘strain, and drink’


In this recipe, the sloes get a few days’ maceration with the sugar to encourage them to release some of their delicious, ruby-red juice, before adding the gin.

Makes about 1 litre

500g sloes
200g sugar
1 litre gin
a few drops almond essence

Remove the stalks and prick the sloes all over with a pin
Mix the fruit and sugar in a wide-necked bottle or jar with a lid, cover and leave for 2-3 days, shaking and stirring daily until the juice begins to run
Add the gin and almond essence
Cover the jar and leave for 3 months in a cool, dark place, shaking occasionally
Strain the liqueur and discard the fruit
Filter the liqueur through a coffee paper or muslin and transfer to a bottle
For best results, leave for a further 6 months to mature. (The 6-month period – and the quantity of the resulting liqueur – tends to get whittled down due to the frequent samplings which will prove to be necessary.)

my sloes macerating in autumn sunshine

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