The Cottage Smallholder

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The Great Sloe Gin Challenge – Three variations of our sloe gin recipe

Sloes on a blackthorn bush against a backdrop of a beautiful blue september sky

Beautiful ripe sloes on the bush in September

No one seems to agree on the right time to pick sloes for sloe gin.
“Pick after the first frosts,” advise the traditionalists.
“Pick them in September, before the bushes are stripped bare,” chortle the enthusiastic.
“Pick them now and give them a chilly blast in the freezer, to give the effect of the first frost,” suggest the practical.

There are other questions too. If the sloes are left to mature until the first frosts, do they have a better flavour? Does the quality of gin affect the liqueur? Should one strain gin from the sloes after three months, six months, ever?

I telephoned Gilbert to discuss this multiple conundrum. His advice was simple.
“Whatever you do, write it down on a label and stick it on the bottle. Then, if your brew is superb, you have the recipe. Note the tree, the time of picking, the gin and the amount of sugar and sloes. If you used almond essence, note how much on each label.”

I recalled that the most interesting part of his cellar was the vast liqueur wall. The label on each bottle and demijohn was covered in microscopic notes.
“Remember that the combination of gin, sloes and sugar is always better that the separate ingredients, no matter what you do.”

He is right. sloe gin sipped on a cold winter’s night is deliciously dangerous.

We have decided to run The Cottage Smallholder sloe gin test. We are going to make sloe gin now under laboratory conditions in the Cottage Smallholder kitchen. The sloe gin will by tasted and evaluated by a team of three experienced sloe gin drinkers.

Using the same gin (supermarket medium quality) and the same recipe, we are going to make sloe gin with three batches of sloes harvested from the same tree.

  • The first bottle will contain freshly picked sloes, picked now in mid September.
  • The second will have fresh sloes picked now but which will have had a night in the freezer.
  • After the first frosts we are going to return to the same tree with a ladder to collect the frosted sloes that an average height forager can’t reach. The third bottle will contain these.

We will publish are results in a few months time.

Two years later we published the results of the sloe gin recipe challenge.

Sloe Gin Recipe:


  • 1lb/454gm of washed sloes
  • 4 ozs/112gm of white granulated sugar
  • 1 75cl bottle of medium quality gin
  • Sterilised 1 litre (at least) Le Parfait jar or wide necked bottle
  • 1 small quarter tsp almond essence


  1. Wash sloes well and discard any bruised or rotten fruit. Prick fruit several times with a fork and place sloes in either a large Kilner/Le Parfait jar or a wide necked 1 litre bottle. I put several sloes in my palm to prick them rather than picking them up one by one.
  2. Using a funnel, add the sugar and top up with gin to the rim. Always open sugar bags over the sink as sugar tends to get caught in the folds at the top of the bag.
  3. Add the almond essence.
  4. Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place until you can resist it no longer (leave for at least three months, we usually let it mature for a year).
  5. Some people strain the grog (through muslin/jelly bag) after 3 months and bottle it, leaving it mature for six months. We usually strain and bottle after a year. We use some beautiful old heine brandy bottles with cork lids. If you are feeling flush Lakeland sell some pretty bottles here. Don’t leave the straining process any longer than a year; leaving the fruit in too long can spoil the liqueur.

For loads more tricks and tips on making sloe gin see the original sloe gin recipe

  Leave a reply


  1. My 81 year old father has a house surrounded bu fruit trees of all types (the clue is in the house name, ‘Home Orchard’)and since mummy left us 5 years ago only the local fauna have benefited from the harvest. But no more; this year the damsons have already gone into jam and damson vodka and this Saturday we are going to embark on the damson chutney from your excellent site. The Cottage Smallholder – it’s the Way Forward!

  2. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Amanda,

    I do the same. I use google reader to keep up to date with the sites that I visit regularly.

    The sloe sherry recipe is here

  3. I thought I commented on this yesterday. I keep doing that – navigating away before posting comments. Look forward to the results and would love to hear more about sloe sherry – Mmmmmmmm!

  4. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Jan,

    That’s an interesting way of making sloe gin. I must try it and with other fruit gins as well.

    On the sloe and damson gin front, we use the gin soaked sloes to make sloe sherry. A very naughty and killer grog

    I love hearing other people™s recipes. That’s what developing recipes is all about.

    Hi Tonya,

    Yes the sloes break down when you freeze them so no need to prick each one. Jan has already answered your question. We serve it in shot glasses with some iced water on the side. If you are tasting different brews the iced water is great for clearing the pallet and brain.

    Hi Moonroot,

    Ours used to be a bit hit and miss too. Then we met Gilbert!

    You have a very interesting site, we’d love a link.

    Hi Jan,

    One of our friends drinks sloe gin with tonic! We stick to the small glasses ourselves. Very morish.

    Hi Sara,

    It will be interesting as two will be more mature than the ˜after the first frosts one.™

    It would be great to have one clear winner.

    • Lee Farabella

      I was put on to the making of sloe sherry last year, read it somewhere and now I am hooked, like it even more than the gin I use medium sherry and it turns a lovely pink colour.
      Very disappointing this year, went to pick the berries on Sunday 14th September and there were none left at all. Same place as last year where I managed to harvest 18lbs!!

      • hi very interested in the sherry do you still add the same amount of sugar in there

      • jacqui

        Can you please advise me. Again berries are very earl this year and think I have found sloe berries. The lower branches seem to have already gone but they are not yet purple. Not ever done this before. Can you pick sloes before they are purple and is there another berry like the sloe. Dont want a mistake to be made. Thankyou.

  5. Thanks Jan. Cant wait till Christmas, will have it as a treat.

  6. farmingfriends

    I look forward to hearing the verdict.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  7. In a small glass! Don’t mix it with anything. 🙂

  8. Can’t wait to read the results. We often make sloe gin but haven’t been very scientific about it – more hit & miss.
    Have only just found this blog and I love it! Would it be OK to put a link to you from mine?

  9. I read that if you freeze the sloes, they burst and therefore there is no need to prick each one. I made mine on the 11th Sept. Never made it before. Can you tell me how to serve it?

  10. I was taught to prick the sloes and put them in the jar/s with just the sugar. When the sugar has drawn out all the juice you strain off the liquid, and only then do you add the gin. That way none of the gin is wasted by being absorbed by the fruit.

    Everyone’s recipe or method is a bit different. 🙂

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