The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

The great sloe gin challenge: The Results

Photo: Fat sloes on a blackthorn bush

Photo: Fat sloes on a blackthorn bush

Picking sloes to make sloe gin is hugely popular in the UK.  Perhaps because it combines the hunter gatherer instinct and the delight of making your own tasty grog. Although traditionally it is drunk at Christmas, it’s the most popular drink to be proffered in a hip flask out here in the country. There is a lot of competition over who has the best brew, secret recipes are not aired and shared. To be offered a sip of ten year old sloe gin is an honour, not to be turned down.

It’s two years since we completed this challenge and I must admit that I’ve been loathe to publish our results. ‘Why?’ I hear you cry. ‘These results could help me.’ Possibly – if it’s a late sloe year and you have access to your own fruit. Because the sloe gin with the best flavour was from sloes left till the first frosts.

The sloes put in the freezer overnight came second and the sloes picked and pricked and put straight into jars of gin came third.

I reckon that the naturally frosted sloes were bigger, mature, more flavoursome fruit. But as sloes are very early this year to wait until the first frosts is wanton folly as all that would be left would be shrivelled husks. So I’m going down the over night in the freezer route this year. I’m also going to save some sloe stones to try and grow my own blackthorn thicket in the cottage garden.

  Leave a reply


  1. I started picking sloes earlier this week. I noticed that they seemed ripe early too. Yesterday I went out to pick some more and found I had competition – a couple had collected a huge bag of them.

    Last year I pricked the sloes and it took ages.
    This year I am freezing them. I’m also going to try a sloe brandy too. Last year I made a sloe sherry – reusing the sloes from the gin and adding them to a sweet sherry, with no extra sugar. It worked quite well, extracting the last bits of flavour from the sloes.

  2. Hi Fiona,

    Many thanks for publishing the results – I too have just picked a Wodge(tm) of sloes and was this close > < to putting them in the jars 'raw' – it's off to the freezer with them for now though, while I check (daily!) that the gin isn't going off…

    Slightly off topic, but helpful to some, I hope…

    I love both plums and damsons, but find most preserves recipes too sweet for my liking. Luckily, I recently found this wonderful minimally-sweet family recipe from a German grandmother, deep in the heart of the Black Forest, for an intense preserve that can be used for both sweet and savoury uses. Tastes great both on ice-cream or as a chutney, with cheese and biscuits etc.

    I've made it with both damsons and plums this year and both are equally good (less faff removing plumstones though).

    It's also great for gluts, as the quantity you end up with is less than you would get from jam, but packed with flavour.

    Balsamic Plum Preserves
    3 kg ripe plums(stoned) or damsons.
    500g soft brown sugar.
    250 ml Balsamic vinegar (or other mild vinegar)
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    0.5 teaspoon ground cloves
    zest of 1 lemon
    80 g candied orange peel, finely chopped. (Can substitute dried apricots if preferred.)

    1. Put the sugar and the vinegar in a preserving pan over a low heat and stir until dissolved.
    2. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir well.
    3. Let it simmer uncovered over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until thickened. This could take as long as 5 or 6 hours, depending on the juiciness of the fruit. Alternatively, place uncovered pan in a low oven for several hours.

    If using damsons, then the stones will have to be removed at some point – I found it easiest to use a sieve when the damsons were just softened.

    The consistency to aim for is similar to the quince paste membrillo – no excess liquid visible when a wooden spoon is drawn across the base of the pan.

    4. Pot in sterilised jars.

  3. You can leave sloe gin for 10 years. :oO! holy moly! this is the 1st year I have made it,now its funny because I read after I picked them(rolls eyes) how its best to leave until after a frost,but the bush was groaning with them & I thought well they look as if they are at their peak to me,I will pick them now, I made(heheh) E small take off her fleece & knotted it up to make a bucket!

    Reading what you say about the freezer result,I will go back I think & get soe & freeze,how long did you leave them there or is it a quick freeze & can make it the next day? & my word! can anyone really wait 10 years?? I am laying down a bottle of pontack sauce a year to get to the magic 7 years with that! may try the sloe gin for 10 then lol! I was talking about sloes tonight at a barn party & my neighbour reckoned using vodka beats using gin?any thoughts on that one?
    GTM x x hic hic lol!

  4. Thanks Danny. I think I will be up all weekend prepping damsons!

    Best wishes


  5. Danny Carey

    Penny – Fiona is busy in the kitchen making passata and other aromatic goodies (and playing with her new dehydrator).
    To find more uses for damsons, click on the raw search link at the top right, just above the Search box.
    On the ugly looking search page that follows, type in
    damson recipe

    and select ‘all words’. Hit Search and you will find all manner of goodies!

    Charlotte – welcome, and you are so right. I think damsons are possibly the best wild fruit.

    Sorry, everybody else, I am pressed for time. Fiona will respond later this evening once I unlock the titanium chain that binds her to the kitchen 🙂

  6. Charlotte Burt

    Damsons make really good jam, (my mum made loads last year).

  7. Hi Fiona,

    I really love your site and find the recipes really helpful. I think I am going to need as many damson recipes as I can find. I have just come back from my mum’s house (we live in Bedfordshire)to look at her three wild damson trees; they are absolutely laden with damsons, I picked 3lb in a minute and will return tomorrow to get more. There must be upwards of 50-75lbs still to go. Any suggestions beyond the damson gin and damson cheese would be really welcome.

    Best wishes


  8. magic cochin

    Hi Fiona – what useful information!

    We have a blackthorn in the garden – I planted it 10 years ago and it’s now a sizable bush. I’ll try to wait a s long as possible before picking the sloes this year…

    Our blackthorn was a teeny tiny sucker pulled from a grassy verge near a good sloe picking hedge where we lived in Hertfordshire. It lived in a pot and travelled with us while we moved house 3 times and was about a foot high and pot bound when I eventually planted it out. Now it has its roots down to the water table it has really taken off and has put up a forest of suckers!!!

    I’d try to find a little rooted sucker near a productive blackthorn hedge – or drop me a line and I’l pot up one of ours for you. It would be fun to try growing the stones too, it would be interesting to compare how they do.

    Isn’t the weather stunning today! This morning on my way home from Kedington butchers (highly recommended, by the way), I saw a buzzard hovering in the cloudless blue sky – wonderful!

    best wishes

  9. Hi Fiona.
    Where I live there seems to be a lot of sloe gin makers & there are none left by the time the frost comes! I have to use the freezer. How is your battle with tomatoe blight going? It has just started on mine (outdoors). Distraught. 3rd year running. Never had it in 20 years of growing tomatoes before this. Last year I put horticultural fleece on the least affected & this seemed to slow the spread speeded up ripening of the fruit before they got infected.

  10. I’m making damson gin this year for a change … but perhaps I’ll make a little sloe gin too, since it’s such a good year for sloes


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,254,429 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2023 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder

Skip to toolbar