Berry up your spirits this holiday season [Recipe]


sloe berries on blackthorn

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For me Christmas means it’s time to break out my flavored spirits.

For a few years now I have foraged in the hedgerows of the lanes around my Village in North Yorkshire and tried to take full advantage of free ingredients. My particular favorites are the berries of the Blackthorn, commonly known as sloes, and elderberries.

The time to pick Sloes is around September when they are the most wonderful purple. Despite it being nearly winter and the hedgerows being nearly bare, I managed to pick what I needed. Elderberries are ripe around the same time and dangle like rich purple chandeliers.

Making sloe gin is so easy! So much so that you can use this method as a template for other berry-based clear alcohol concoctions that will warm the cockles of your heart on a cold winter’s evening or add that final flourish to a festive meal. It’s also a great way to warm up after a snowball fight!


What you need

  • Large bottle
  • Foraged sloes (enough to quarter fill the bottle)
  • Caster sugar
  • Gin

Note: Although some recipes say you should use the best gin, I use the cheapest supermarket gin I can find. In the end the choice is yours, but I think it makes no difference.



To get the best out of your berries, wash them and freeze them for 24 hours.



  1. Wash and sterilize bottle.
  2. Push your frozen sloes in the bottle.
  3. Use a funnel and pour in the caster sugar, enough to cover the sloes.
  4. Add gin, filling the bottle.
  5. Cork the bottle.
  6. Gently shake, turning the bottle upside down and back to start the mixing process. The sugar takes about a week to dissolve. During that week, gently shake the bottle each day.
  7. Wait 4 to 6 weeks for booze to happen.
  8. Decant into clean, sterilized bottles, using a funnel and a tea strainer to prevent spillage and rogue berries from dropping into the new bottles.

Plan ahead: Since it makes a great Christmas gift, I tend to make it in September, and bottle it in December.


Twisting the recipe

Even though sloes are seasonal, you can berry alcohol at any time of the year. Try strawberries, raspberries or even go citrus — let your imagination run wild! This year I made blueberry and vanilla vodka (the results for awesome) using the sloe gin recipe as a template. The only change I made was to replace 50 grams of the caster sugar with vanilla sugar.

Photo by Den Forster

And rather than throwing the vodka-soaked blueberries away, I blitzed and boiled them up with some more vanilla sugar and made some jam — by heck, it blows your socks off!

This homemade spirit will have your friends and family asking for more — and best yet, it’s gluten free!