Sloe Gin is not Gin - Discover this Berry-Flavored Gin Liqueur

By Timo Torner / Last updated on July 22, 2023

Sloe Gin is often listed together with other types of Gin. However, it's actually a liqueur of deep red color that packs rich berry flavors. Discover with us what Sloe Gin truly is.
Sloe Gin in jar garnished with sloe berries

When people hear about Sloe Gin for the first time, most think that it's just another variation of Gin flavored with sloe berries. That is partly true, but there's more to it. Sloe Gin has a long tradition in Britain and has been a classic cocktail ingredient for ages.

To better understand the history of it, we should first look at the main ingredient and its origin. Sloe berries are small, deep red, growing all over England. You rarely hear about them being used in food or drinks because, unprocessed, they taste rather unpleasant.

However, the Brits found a way to make these berries taste good. So let's start discovering how it all began.


If you would eat fresh sloe berries, you discover they taste super sour and rather disagreeable - not to say downright bad. Yet, these berries were growing literally everywhere in England, so people experimented and found ways to make them taste better.

These experiments led, among other things, to the invention of Sloe Gin during the 17th century. That also had to do with several enclosure acts performed by the English government. Common land was divided into private farms with hedges, e.g., sloe hedges, separating them. Inevitably, this led to an excess of sloe berries. 

Eventually, some innovative farmers started experimenting and discovered that harvesting them late after the first frost would reduce the sour taste drastically. Later they figured out that by preserving them in alcohol, slow berries even develop a sweet and almost raisin-like taste.

British sources often explain that sloe berries were preserved in Gin because the warm notes of juniper and coriander perfectly match the taste of the sloe berries. Honestly, though, the choice probably fell on Gin because it was available everywhere in England at this time, thus, cheaper than any other spirit.

What is Sloe Gin?

In simple terms, Sloe Gin is a Gin-based liqueur where sloe berries are macerated in traditional Gin and sweetened with sugar. The result is a deep red, berry-flavored, sweet Gin-liqueur that contains slightly less alcohol than traditional Gin.

How it tastes

The aroma of Sloe Gin is very different from classic Gin. It has a distinctive sour, berry taste reminding me of cranberry or pomegranate. On the palate, rich sweetness pairs with a sourness to create a unique tart flavor that highlights the distinct taste of the sloe berries.

How is Sloe Gin made?

Making Sloe Gin is not complicated. You can even do it at home. The most laborious step of this process is harvesting and preparing the sloe berries for maceration.

The berries are harvested after the first frost of winter as this makes the fruits milder in taste. Before the berries get mixed with Gin and sugar for maceration, every single berry is supposed to be pricked with a thorn. Traditionally, thorns of blackthorn bushes, but you can use any other thorn too.

Sloe berries and sugar usually have a ratio of 110g sugar per 570 ml of sloes; -The latter is the size of an imperial pint. Jars are filled halfway with this mix, then Gin is added. 

The liqueur matures in the jar for about three months and develops a deep red color. To support this process, the jars should be turned regularly. After that, the berries are discarded. Then the filtered liqueur rests for another week before it's bottled.

The difference between Sloe Gin and Gin

There are many differences to traditional Gin. Apart from the obvious - taste and looks - the most important one is that Gin is a spirit while Sloe Gin is a liqueur. Here's a quick overview of the key differences:

Gin Sloe Gin
Type of alcohol Distilled Spirit Liqueur
Color Transparent Dark pink to ruby red
ABV min. 37.5% 25% to 35%
Sweet No Yes
Production method Distilled Macerated

How much alcohol is in Sloe Gin?

Sloe Gin contains less alcohol than Gin. Until very recently, the alcohol content was as low as 15%. However, since 2023, the European Union decided that the liqueur needs to contain at least 25% ABV to carry the name.

Brands prepared for this in advance, and most products available already contain between 25% and 30% of alcohol. Some bottles even have up to 35%, like the product from Elephant Gin.

How to drink it?

The sloe berry flavored Gin liqueur can be consumed in many ways - often neat at room temperature or chilled. You can also add a shot to chilled sparkling wine or Champagne to give your bubbly a tart berry flavor.

It's also often used in cocktails, either in riffs on classic cocktails like the Negroni or in original recipes like the Sloe Gin cocktail. Used in a Sloe Negroni, it replaces sweet Vermouth as the sweet component to create a slightly brighter and more acidic version of the Italian aperitif.

The so-called Sloe Gin cocktail is based on 2 ounces of Sloe Gin mixed with 0.25 ounces of Dry Vermouth and a dash of orange bitters. Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass and strain into a chilled glass garnished with orange zest. 

You can also use it in a modified Gin and Tonic: Use a split base of half class and half Sloe Gin and pair it with classic tonic water. Alternatively, you can use a Sloe-flavored Gin only and pair it with Lemon Tonic water like the Sicilian Lemon Tonic from Fever-Tree.

The best-known cocktail made with this sloe-berry flavored liqueur is the Sloe Gin Fizz. Like a classic Gin Fizz, this drink is refreshingly bubbly and tangy. It contains Sloe Gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and chilled soda water. 

By adding in the berry-flavored liqueur instead of Gin, you get a significantly warmer and fruitier cocktail. It also increases the complexity of the cocktail's flavor profile.


Is Sloe Gin high in sugar?

Sloe Gin is a liqueur, thus, pretty high in sugar. Typically it contains 100g of sugar per 1 liter. That means one serving of 1.5oz (45ml) has 4,5g of sugar.

What do you eat with Sloe Gin?

If you want to pair food with Sloe Gin, try it with hearty and flavorful dishes made with beef or venison. However, it also goes perfectly with cheese.

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