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. I made quince and rosemary gin on Monday and sloe gin yesterday. Used no sugar in first and not much in second. They look like decanted jewels and they already taste divine!

  2. put used sloes in cider last year made slider taste was great what I got, most blew up taking bottles of wine with it must de gas first

  3. Val because I have been making mine for about 5yrs I decant mine when the previous years supply runs out, This has varied from Nov and as late as Jan. I think by mid December yours will be ready for decanting. Do try a little Val, you will be pleasantly surprised.

  4. Val carpenter

    Hi I made sloe gin for the first time in September when is it best to decant it to remove the sloes it is looking a lovely colour but as I don’t drink I would not know what it should taste like I made it for my daughter .

  5. John wallace

    Hi I am just wondering if you can add gin to the sloe gin after it is bottles I used were too small to take all the gin and am afraid I didn’t use enough gin
    Thank you

    • mervyn smith

      hi john what i would do wait tell ready take out sloe gin then add rest ofgin to the sloes for a month then add it all to gether mervyn

  6. I currently have a batch of sloe gin in the making. In previous years I have made sloe sherry with my gin soaked sloes the 2nd time around, but this year I want to make another batch of gin. Is this possible? I normally use 8oz sloes, 375ml gin and 2.5oz sugar. If I made another batch with the same sloes whould I need more sloes and sugar to gin ratio or still the same since the goodness is taken out of them 1st time around. Hope someone can advise me b4 beginning of December. Many thanks.

  7. mervyn smith

    19/10/2014 i freeze my sloes 2lb sloes 1lb caster suger blanchad almonds about 5 secret is to put a small piece fresh ginger that gives it a kick on afrosty morning

  8. Hi Fiona

    This article was what brought me to your site today. My parents picked 7lb of sloes yesterday for a workmate of mine who hasn’t been able to find any, and I wanted to point him at your reliable recipes.

    (I think my parents picked the sloes so as not to have to tell my workmate where they find them!)

  9. This is the same method I use for my sloe gin, although I add a quarter of a stick of cinnamon to a 2 litre kilner jar, gives a lovely warmth to your grog.

    Just been given a bag of wild damsons by a keen eyed foraging friend, I have never made damson gin before, offlicense here come.

    Great blog, thankyou.

  10. Hi Fiona

    Like you I leave my sloes in for a full year then decant the sloe gin and leave it to mature.

    This year I want to do something with the waste sloes, such as chutney, jelly or chocolate, but read somewhere that only those sloes that have been whipped out of the mix after 2-3 months are suitable. Apparently, those that have been left for a year are ‘fit for nothing but the bin’.

    What’s your opinion on this?


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