Bill Harriman shares his secrets for accelerating the process of making sloe gin


Sloe gin has become the traditional shooter’s tipple.

What about readymade sloe gins?

I find them a bit too sweet. And in any case, this year looks like producing a bumper crop of sloes. So I thought I’d share my carefully researched recipe for making sloe gin fast (but with a delicious final result) so that I can share it around my pals.

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Fast sloe gin that’s drinkable in a fortnight

I don’t want to wait to drink sloe gin until November, when I have my first shooting day. So, I set about some developmental work to produce sloe gin that was drinkable in a fortnight and excellent after a month.

Sloe gin is simply a tincture that depends on alcohol to extract the flavour and colour of the sloes. Traditionally, each sloe is painstakingly pricked before being immersed in gin. It’s a long process. I know some folk freeze the sloes to break them down to allow the alcohol to penetrate more speedily.

I was inspired to develop my own method after I saw the wonderful ruby red colour of the juices oozing through the crust of a damson crumble. They formed a syrup which held the colour and flavour of the fruit to perfection. I reasoned that if a similar approach was taken with sloes, then sloe gin could be made in days rather than months. I was right and so here’s the delicious result of my researches.

Recipe for speedy sloe gin


  • 450g sloes
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 1L  good quality gin
  • Almond essence
  • 75ml of 79.9 per cent Polish pure spirit vodka

STEP 1: Preparing the sloes

Discard any imperfect sloes and remove any leaves or stalks. Wash the sloes well. Place in an ovenproof dish and dust well with most of the caster sugar. Save 75g of sugar to adjust the sweetness later.

STEP 2: Making the syrup

Bake in a low oven (150 degrees C) for about 20 minutes. You may need to add a teaspoon of water to get the syrup to form. As the fruit starts to break down, stir it around to release the red syrup. When the fruit is a complete mush, take it out of the oven and allow it to cool. When cooled, you can adjust the sugar to taste.

STEP 3: Sieving the fruit

Spoon the stewed fruit into a sieve and force the skins and pulp through the mesh using a wooden spoon. This isolates the stones, which are then thrown away. Put the pulp and syrup into a large jar. Rinse out the oven dish and then sieve the last bits of the fruit with some of the gin to make sure that none of the fruit mixture is wasted.

STEP 4: Adding the gin

Top up the jar with the rest of the gin and leave to cool. After 72 hours test the brew for sweetness and add more sugar if you think it needs it. Give it stir. You may want to add a couple of drops of almond essence. I find this gives the drink a slightly nutty taste. Buy the best almond essence you can and avoid the synthetic stuff, which is normally called almond flavouring.

STEP 5: An extra kick

After a week I add about 75ml of 79.9 per cent Polish pure spirit vodka. Most gins are only 37.5 per cent by volume and I find them rather thin. The Polish firewater supercharges the mixture and gives it body. It’s flavourless and designed as a base for cocktails. You can buy this rocket fuel on the internet.

STEP 6: The waiting game

After a fortnight, the fast sloe gin is ready to drink. This method also works well for damson gin.