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12 best sloe gins: Fresh and fruity liqueurs for cocktails or sipping neat

Splashed into mulled wine or served over ice, these tipples are perfect for warming up from the inside out

Alicia Miller
Friday 22 October 2021 15:40
<p>While it’s easy to concoct your own at home, these professionally crafted tipples are hard to beat</p>

While it’s easy to concoct your own at home, these professionally crafted tipples are hard to beat

What’s even more British than gin? Sloe gin. While the Dutch can take a fair bit of credit for gin itself – they invented its juniper-flavoured precursor, jenever – sloe gin seems to be a distinctly British creation. And, as each autumn rolls around, foragers head out into the hedgerows to harvest masses of small, purple sloe berries.

This fruit from the blackthorn bush is too sharp and astringent for eating straight, but it yields a gorgeously fruity flavour when steeped with alcohol and sugar. And it’s this simple recipe – gin plus sloes plus sugar – that has made sloe gin so popular for making at home. Anyone can do it, with a little patience (it’s a bit of a “slow” process).

But it’s not so easy to make a really good one. Crack the lid off any of our best sloe gins, listed below, and you’ll realise they’re in a league of their own. Not sickly or cloying – rather balanced, fresh and fruity – these professionally crafted liqueurs are delicious sipped straight by the fireside, poured into flasks for long autumn walks or stirred into mulled wine.

There are a few things that make a sloe gin a winner. First of all, it should have a good-quality gin base. Most homemade sloe gins are made with cheap alcohol, but the best shop-bought ones use a quality spirit to begin with, which greatly impacts the final flavour.

Secondly, the sloe gin should taste like the sum of its parts – that means a fruity flavour from the sloes that tastes natural (not synthetic) and a detectable juniper flavour. Finally, it should be balanced, neither overly sweet – an all-too-common sin – or mouth-puckeringly tart.

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How we tested

All our gins were first tasted neat, side by side, by a panel of four drinks-industry professionals who evaluated them overall on taste, look and price point. Then we tasted them again, within a common price bracket, to ensure each was good value and delivered a sloe gin experience worth savouring.

The best sloe gins for 2021 are:

Warner’s sloe gin, 30%, 70cl

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

There’s a lot we like about this sloe gin, but let’s start with the main factor: it still tastes like a gin. While so many tipples shy away from their juniper roots, Warner’s still lets the piney notes shine through, mingling deliciously with that characteristic dark fruit character to create a balanced, moreish tipple.

Next, we like how Warner’s version trots the line between classic and contemporary. It’s obviously a sloe gin, but it’s not boring. That delicious balance between sweet and tart is partly to thank, as is the distinct orange peel note.

Finally, we really like the price point, a very reasonable £30 for 70cl, which for the quality is superb (other premium pours can push towards the £40 mark). It’s another excellent buy from this Northamptonshire-based distiller which, in our experience, seems to make nothing but excellent gins.

The Oxford Artisan Distillery dam sloe gin, 26%, 20cl

Best: Premium sloe gin

Rating: 9.5/10

It’s a lot to spend on a sloe gin – litre by litre, this stuff costs more than double the price of some of the other liqueurs on this list. But, it is seriously tasty.

This is the sloe gin for people who don’t like sloe gin. Miles from the classic sticky fruit bombs, it’s a crafted drink that has more in common with port or even whisky than the typical sloe iteration. Part of that will be down to the mix of fruit: the distillery uses wild damsons as well as sloes in the mix. It will also be the first-rate base spirit, produced from characterful, organic, ancient heritage grains.

If you want to taste the flavourful clean spirit as-is, try Oxford Artisan Distillery’s vodka, one of our favourites. But it is also down to skilful spirit making and careful ageing. Sip it neat, with a decadent cheeseboard at the end of a meal.

Hernö sloe gin, 30%, 50cl

Best: Lighter style sloe gin

Rating: 8/10

Sloe gin may be among the most British of drinks, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find great versions from overseas. One such example is by Hernö, a quirky Swedish distillery that also makes one of our top flavoured gins.

While it still contains classic sloe berries (hawthorn loves a cooler climate, so Scandinavia is perfect), it has a totally different flavour profile to classic British pours. That’s because they’ve also added a few distinctly Swedish botanicals. Think tart red lingonberries – yep, the ones that go into IKEA’s delicious meatball sauce – and earthy-green meadowsweet. There’s also a tingle of black pepper, which makes the whole thing feel rather grown up.

Overall, this is a fresh sloe gin that will lend itself well to mixing with tonic or soda, especially given it’s a reasonably punchy 30 per cent ABV.

Two Birds sloe gin, 26%, 70cl

Best: For mixing

Rating: 7.5/10

Fan of jam tarts? Stick your nose into a glass of this sloe gin, close your eyes, and it’s just like sniffing a freshly baked batch of cherry-preserve goodies. The palate follows suit with juicy fruit sweetness and almond nuttiness, and a zip of acidity gives the whole thing a clean finish.

The sloes come from hedgerows near the Leicestershire-based distillery, so you could say this is an authentic taste of the Midlands. Try it mixed into a glass of prosecco – the sloe gin’s fruitiness will shine, and its fresh acidity will keep the cocktail from tasting overly sweet.

Daylesford sloe gin, 26%, 70cl

Best: Premium traditional sloe gin

Rating: 8.5/10

Sometimes you just want a good old-fashioned sloe gin. And this bottling nails it. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s zingy, but doesn’t strip your dental enamel. And, it warms the cockles on a frigid day, without being knee-wobblingly boozy. It’s generously fruity – rich in dark plum, prune and berry – and has a dialled down juniper profile, making it a real crowd-pleaser for all tastes too. We can’t imagine any sloe gin fan turning up their noses. And we can’t think of much better a match for a roaring fire or cosy night watching Netflix.

Sloemotion sloe gin, 26%, 50cl

Best: Contemporary classic

Rating: 8/10

If you didn’t guess it from the name, the Sloemotion distillery started off by making sloe gin. And given they’re a specialist in the subject, you know this bottle is going to be good. Over the years the distillery has won plenty of awards, and the appeal is obvious. There’s a complex fruitiness – brought by the addition of other hedgerow favourites including crab apple and rosehip – and a distinct herby aroma from nettle leaf.

Racy acidity balances the medium sweetness, and a long, old finish means you’ll still be tasting it minutes after you sip. A winning pick for the hip flask when you’re out for chilly walks, this is a contemporary sloe gin that will banish your nan’s homemade bottles to the back of the cupboard (sorry, nan).

Brookie’s slow gin, 26%, 70cl

Best: Non-sloe gin

Rating: 8.5/10

We’re cheating a bit with this one – it’s technically not a sloe gin. It doesn’t contain even one sloe. That’s because it’s made in Australia, where sloes aren’t much of a thing. But Brookie’s “slow” gin plays on the concept, channelling the same vibe with an exotic tropical fruit, Davidson plum.

Native to the subtropical region around Byron Bay – where the gin is made – the plum is an Aussie bushfood delicacy, with its sharp acidity and sour-fruity flavour. These are characteristics rather similar to a sloe, which is why the distillery thought, we suppose, to use them. (That, and because the distillery happened to have loads of Davidson plums growing in their own onsite rainforest – as you do). The end result is a gin with a complex flavour profile that will keep you interested with every sip. We tasted notes of nut, cacao and rose, all bursting through the pleasant pervading fruitiness.

Chase oak aged sloe gin, 29.1%, 50cl

Best: Winter warmer

Rating: 8.5/10

This sloe gin packs mega flavour. But we’re hardly surprised: Chase, makers of the bold pink grapefruit and pomelo (one of our favourite pink gins, isn’t afraid of punchy flavour profiles). This one tastes a bit like Christmas in a bottle.

Ample fruit flavour from tart sloes and sweet mulberries (an unconventional addition) meets a tickle of festive spice from (also unconventional) oak aging. The casks that the gin was aged in once held Rhône valley red wines, and while we wouldn’t go as far as saying there’s a vinous flavour, you can imagine it’s added a suppleness to the finished liqueur. With so much character, acidity and length, this is a sloe gin that can easily stand up to mixing with tonic.

Adnams sloe gin, 26%, 70cl

Best: For affordable traditional

Rating: 7/10

Cinnamon, almond and nutmeg aromas, mingled in with plum and cherry – this sloe gin from Suffolk-based Adnams is a classic version that is neither too sweet nor too heavy. In fact, it still maintains a pleasant bitter kick from the sloes, which gives it a freshly-harvested-fruit character. Adnams has been a brewery and alcohol merchant in Southwold for well over a century, and this sloe gin is just another example of its solid range, which also includes whiskies, vodkas, wines and – of course – its popular beers.

Sipsmith sloe gin 2018, 29%, 50cl

Best: “Vintage” sloe gin

Rating: 9/10

You rarely see a vintage gin, never mind a vintage sloe gin, but then again Sipsmith isn’t the kind of company that does things by the book. Just like grapes for wine, sloes are fruit, and each year’s harvest can taste different depending on the weather. It’s this fact that Sipsmith recognises when slapping a “vintage” declaration year on its bottle.

Whatever the sloe gin harvest actually looked like in 2018, all we know is that this gin is tasty. It’s got a plummy, pruney, cassis profile – classic sloe gin territory – and just the right acidity to keep it fresh, without being so zippy as to make your teeth ache. It is more mellow and balanced than some others, too, perhaps because it’s had three years to chill out before it hits your lips. Pair it neat with a mince pie, or warm up with festive spices for a twist on mulled wine.

Hepple sloe & hawthorn gin, 30%, 50cl

Best: Quirky sloe gin

Rating: 8/10

If you’ve never tried Hepple Gin, the first thing you should know is that it isn’t for people who don’t like juniper. It’s a full-on celebration of the classic gin botanical. Using labour-intensive, complicated distillation techniques, the team developed a flavourful gin infused not just with traditional dried juniper berries, but with handpicked fresh green juniper and douglas fir. Imagine a gin that tastes the way a dense pine forest looks and smells.

Now, imagine that with a whack of fruitiness: and you get this sloe gin. Hawthorn berries are added to the mix to bring a tart, tannin dry note – perfect if you don’t like your sloe gin too sweet – while six months of resting on the berries ensures plenty of flavour. This is a thinking drinker’s sloe gin, with a totally different profile.

Berkshire Botanicals sloe gin, £16, 50cl

Best: Bargain

Rating: 7/10

We love the generously fruity nose of this gin, inspired by the botanicals found on West Berkshire’s Yattendon Estate. The estate is one of the largest Christmas tree growers in the UK, so it’s only fitting that they’ve produced a version of this festive-favourite juniper tipple. On the palate it shows a bit of a cherried, medicinal note; it would add good flavour to a seasonal mulled wine. At half the price of some other sloe gins on this list, it’s a winning pick if you want to make a big batch for seasonal parties – or splash into fruity cocktails with prosecco or lemonade.

The verdict: Sloe gin

When it comes to a classic crowd-pleaser, we can’t look much past Warner’s sloe gin. It tastes great, and is good value, at just £30 per 70cl versus the £40-plus price marks that come with some other premium tipples. And, despite the generous sweet fruit flavour, it still tastes like a gin.

If you’re looking for a sloe gin with a totally different, sophisticated profile, we’d opt for The Oxford Artisan Distillery dam sloe gin. It certainly isn’t cheap, though, so make sure you sip it sloe-ly rather than pour into cocktails or mixed drinks where you may lose its delicious nuances.

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Spice up your drinks cabinet this Christmas with the best flavoured gins and the best pink gins

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