Sloe Gin might be a well known staple of British alcohol, but its origins are not as lovely as you might think.
In the 17th and 18th century the UK Parliament began to pass a series of Acts known as the ‘Inclosure Acts’. In modern English these ‘enclosures’ involved the removal of common land and distributing them into owned areas for farming and other activities.
BY the 1750s enclosure was the norm and nearly all common land was transformed into these sectioned off areas.
But how to section them? Well, in the same way that most fields are still sectioned today, with hedge rows.
While many different types of hedge where used, a very popular plant was that of the hawthorn bush. Its dense and thorny branches made it perfect for separating land across the country.
This meant that suddenly, every autumn, the country became inundated with sloe berries, lining hedgerows across the nation.
While the berries alone are highly unpalatable with a very bitter and tart flavour, it did seem like a huge waste to simply let them rot on the branches.
So, what was the best way to deal with them? Yup, the good old English way. Drown them in alcohol.
Sloe gin did not, however, gain its illustrious reputation for some time following its inception. Being so readily available, its prestige was little more than cheap beer is these days.
It was often seen as a poor man’s drink, being called a poor man’s port by many, and was drunk in the much poorer areas of the country.
However, as time went on the bartenders of the nation, and later the world, began to see this drink as a bit of a gem, combining it was other flavours to produce some incredible cocktails which we will discuss later.
What is it?
So, what makes Sloe Gin different from any other gin? Quite simply, it’s not technically gin. For something to be classified as gin it need to go through a very specific process and Sloe Gin doesn’t.
So, what is it? Well, it’s a gin-based liqueur that infuses the mighty sloe berry with gin, so it’s close enough.
Sloe Gin around the world has an alcohol content of between 15% and 30% but the EU has designated that it must be at least 25% to be designated as such. So it definitely packs a punch.
Its dark red appearance originates from the dark berries used to make this historic drink and makes it instantly recognisable.
How to drink it
As we previously said, the sloe berry itself is incredibly tart and almost impossible to eat of the branch.
However, after undergoing the process of turning it into Sloe Gin, it becomes a sweet, fruity drink to enjoy in those winter months.
There are many ways to drink Sloe Gin, starting with the classic and most traditional way. Sip it neat. While many will tell you this is not the most delicious way of drinking it, if you enjoy it, that’s all that counts.
While, as previously discussed, Sloe Gin is technically not a gin, it does go very well with tonic. Whether that’s regular tonic or one of the many different flavoured variations, it won’t only make your drink delicious but also make the liqueur last longer.
Finally, and most crucially, in our opinion at least, are the amazing cocktails that you can make with this diverse drink.
Sloe Gin cocktails
Sloe Gin Negroni
The Negroni is one of the world’s most classic and oldest cocktails. So what better way to celebrate it than by including one of the country’s oldest and most traditional alcohol?
Negroni was actually conceptualised by replacing the soda in an Americano with gin, so by replacing the gin with sloe gin, you are actually following in the footsteps of Count Camillo Negroni himself and building a fantastic sloe gin cocktail.
25ml sloe gin
25ml sweet vermouth
Dehydrated orange wheel
Method: Build the cocktail in a mixing glass and stir with plenty of ice. Strain the drink into a rocks glass served, again, with plenty of ice.
This delicious cocktail really captures the roots of the historic drink. Drawing flavours from other classic hedgerow plants to combine and form an autumnal cocktail.
The combination of these flavours with some lovely Prosecco will bring a real degree of sophistication and a sense of celebration to whatever event you serve this sloe gin cocktail at.
Alternatively, just whip one up for yourself and have a treat of an evening. You deserve it.
25ml sloe gin
25ml cherry brandy
1 rosemary sprig
Approx. 50ml chilled prosecco (to top up)
Method: No mixing or stirring here. Fill a glass with prosecco before gently crushing the rosemary and dropping it in. Pour the sloe in and brandy slowly into the glass, allowing it to sink to the bottom.
Sloe Gin Martini
You will struggle to find anyone who doesn’t love a Martini. They’re classic, classy and, of course, delicious!
While Martinis are traditionally made with vodka, switching this spirit out for some gin can create a cool twist on this popular cocktail.
The addition of Sloe Gin will create a fantastic fruity flavour that is difficult to match with any other liqueur. If you don’t think it will add to your Martini experience, well you’re wrong. It’s amazing!
15ml sloe gin
15ml lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
1 rosemary sprig, to garnish
Method: Add all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake with lots of ice until thoroughly mixed and cold. Serve with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of lemon in a martini glass.
Best Sloe Gin to buy
Ableforth’s Bathtub Sloe Gin £27.95
Packing a fiery punch at 33.8%, this Sloe Gin isn’t recommended to be drunk straight. However, as a mixer it truly is one of the best flavour combinations to create some wonderful Sloe Gin cocktails.
If you’re a Sloe Gin purebred who is determined to sip it from a glass then fair enough, the stand-alone flavour is reminiscent of pine with a green freshness accompanying the classic fruity flavour of the sloe berries.
Sipsmith make some wonderful spirits and liqueurs with a vast range of flavours. Their Sloe Gin is no different.
Distilled in London they take pride in the details with each year’s sloe berries tasting slightly different.
Think of it like win, each yearly harvest produces different flavours and sensations in the mouth. So do some research on what ‘vintage’ suits your taste best.
Sloemotion Handmade Sloe Gin £18.95
It’s not fun if it’s not a pun. Sloemotion throws us way back to the origins on the liqueur.
The Sloe Gin is made from wild fruit that grows on reclaimed farmland in North Yorkshire, often in the form of hedgerows.
The addition of these fruits, as you can imagine, create a catalogue of incredible autumnal, English flavours that burst in your mouth in every sip.
Only 26% we recommend you drink this straight, although the fruity combinations do also make for an excellent Sloe Gin cocktail ingredient.
Beckett’s Sloe Gin £29.95
As we have seen, you can get all kinds of Sloe Gin’s heavy in fruity and autumnal flavours. But some people just want a slick, classic sloe flavour with none of the added fuss.
Beckett’s Sloe Gin is a much neater, tidier liqueur with no bells and whistles, just straight up, classic flavour.
Hand picked berries from Surrey mixed with mint leaves from Kingston Upon Thames and distilled in London mean this fine quality drink ticks all your boxes without messing with the distinct taste.
How to make your own Sloe Gin
You love Sloe Gin, you love the cocktails you can make from it, but you aren’t so keen on buying from a shop. Well, you’re not alone. Making your own Sloe Gin is a classic English pastime that is still very common today.
It isn’t an exact science and chances are yours won’t taste much like the stuff you get in the supermarket but trust us, it’s still amazing and the sense of accomplishment tastes even better with that first sip.
- Before you begin, freeze your sloe berries overnight. This process will break down the skin on the berries and allow the merging of juice and gin to be easier. In the olden days, the sloes would be harvested after the first frost of the year, but now we have freezers we don’t need to wait that long.
- Fill up a large jar halfway with the berries, then pour in some good quality, but simple gin. No need to get fancy with the flavours. Your inner mixologist might think it’s a great idea but fight the urge. Let the sloes speak for themselves.
- Measure out half the weight of the sloes in caster sugar. For example, if you are using 500g of sloe berries, use 250g of sugar. Pour this into the jar as well before you close it. Make sure it closes with an airtight seal.
- Shake well and store in a dark place. Every 2 weeks or so remove the jar and shake again.
- At 4 weeks it’s taste test time. Try a bit. If it needs more sugar then now is the time. But don’t go overboard, a light coating on top of the berries should be enough.
- Leave the gin for a few more weeks, shaking every fortnight. We say a few weeks but that’s because we are impatient. There is no exact science to how long you should let your liqueur mature. Some even wait over a year.
- Once you are happy, strain the liquid through a muslin cloth back into a clean jar. If you keep it in the fridge it should last a few months quite nicely.
Sloe Gin is an iconic part of British drinking culture and a delicious liqueur to drink both straight or in some fantastic cocktails.
The process of making it is straight forward and fun. You will feel a real sense of pride serving your friends a Sloe Gin Martini made with your own distilled gin.
If not, there are some incredible ready made gins that you can pick up from stores and online which take the flavours to the next level and beyond.
If you’re not a Sloe Gin expert, or haven’t really given it a good go, we thoroughly recommend you give this delicious and diverse drink a chance. It won’t disappoint!