Sloe Gin is the new winter warmer you need to know about.
What is Sloe Gin?Technically, it’s not really a Gin, it’s a Liqueur. That’s because there are stringent rules about what can and can’t be classified as Gin (if you wanna geek-out about different types of Gin, have a read of this).
Sloe Gin is a Gin-based Liqueur which is made by infusing sloe berries, from the blackthorn bush, in Gin. The Gin takes on the colour and the sugar content from the sloes, resulting in a sweet, berry coloured Liqueur.
The history of Sloe GinSloes are native to Europe and have long been used by the British to create ‘shooting Gins’ (as they used to be known).
You’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘shooting Gins’ are for doing shots in bars, but actually, they were favoured by the British aristocracy for sipping from a hip flask in the countryside when shooting birds and game.
Sloes grow in hedgerows - historically used to divide land in England - and are abundant in the British countryside, making Sloe Gin production easy. Consider how nuts about Gin the English are… it was an obvious pairing and a match made in heaven.
For a long time, though, Sloe Gin didn’t have the best reputation. At the height of the 18th century was the ‘Gin Craze’; a time where consumption of Gin grew rapidly in Britain, and particularly in London, when it’s said that the average Brit was drinking 14 gallons of the stuff each year.
The quality of the Gin was poor - made with turpentine and all sorts - so adding sloes to it masked the flavour, but was dubbed ‘the poor man’s Port’.
Fast forward to today, and Sloe Gin is having a revival. No longer considered only something your granny liked, the big Gin producers have put lots of care and attention into creating Sloe Gins that are deliciously sweet, tart and balanced.
Read on for our pick of the best, or learn how to make your own.
How to make your own Sloe GinThe good thing about making your own Sloe Gin at home, is that the hard part is done for you. There’s no distillation involved. As this is a Gin-based Liqueur, start with the base.
Find a good quality Gin - just because you’re adding flavours to it, doesn’t mean you should start with something cheap and nasty you otherwise wouldn’t want to drink.
It’s said that sloes are best picked after the first frost, because it splits the skins and makes them easier to infuse in the Gin. Can’t wait for that? Here’s the cheats way. Pick your sloes when ripe and juicy, rinse them and pop them in the freezer overnight. Or, prick each one with a cocktail stick a couple of times.
Ingredients1 litre Gin
250g caster sugar (to taste)
MethodTake your pre-frozen sloes, or fresh ones that you’ve poked a bunch of holes in, and tip them into a 2 litre Kilner jar (or divide between two smaller ones).
Add the Gin, the sugar, seal the jar, and shake well. Once a day for the next seven days, give the jar a good shake. Leave it in a cool dark place for two months.
When it’s time to decant, use a very fine sieve over a bowl (or line a normal sieve with a muslin cloth) and pour the mixture out. Then divide it into clean, dry bottles and label. Although it’s ready to drink now, it’ll still change over time, so try not to drink it all at once!
If that all seems like too much hassle, or you can’t find any sloes where you are, we recommend you cheat and buy it!
The best Sloe Gins you can buy now
Sipsmith Sloe GinMade with their signature London Dry Gin, and a fresh crop of sloes that changes yearly, means that each vintage of Sipsmith Sloe Gin is slightly different - much like a fine Wine! The sloes infuse the Gin for three to four months before bottling, and the result is a not-too-sweet, well balanced Liqueur.
Sacred Organic Sloe GinThe Sacred Distillery, based in Highgate in London, produces both excellent quality classic Gin, as well as some slightly unusual ones (Christmas Pudding Gin, anyone?).
For their Sloe Gin, they’ve found the sweet spot right in the middle. It’s made with organic sloes that are steeped in Sacred Gin for two and a half years!
Just before bottling, they add an extra shot of juniper, resulting in a Sloe Gin that’s most definitely Gin-flavoured.
58 Distilled Sloe GinYou’d be forgiven for thinking that Master Distiller Mark Marmont had left out the berries when creating this, as it’s a completely clear liquid. But you’d be wrong! 58 Distilled Sloe Gin is just that - distilled!
So the sloes go into the still along with the rest of the botanicals when creating the Gin, rather than infusing them afterwards.
The sloes are less prevalent than in other Sloe Gins, but definitely still present, and the flavour balances well with the other 58 Gin botanicals. There’s no tartness, but still a hint of the sweet, making it perfect for Gin drinkers who don’t like Liqueurs. Drink this one with tonic.
How to drink Sloe GinMake like the British aristocracy and sip it neat, or try it chilled over ice to cut through some of the syrupyness.
Want to make a longer drink? Try this Sloe Gin Fizz from Sipsmith. Or simply have it with a lemon tonic. The Fever-Tree Sicilian Lemon Tonic is deliciously refreshing and the sharpness of the lemon balances out the sweetness of the Sloe Gin.