Sloe gin: the Dickensian choice for Christmas

The latest selection in our 12 Drinks of Christmas series is a traditional festive tipple

Whether your opt for Bill Murray’s Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol, most of us will agree that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an enduring tale, never more pertinent today than it was when he penned it back in 1843.

Dickens might have generated the creative juices for his cautionary fable while nipping at a Sloe gin, a traditional English seasonal sip that dates back to the 17th century. Dickens loved gin and drank in the gin palaces of London and the Garrick Club in the West End, indeed we believe it was in the Garrick he was inspired to write another of his famous novels – ordering a martini the bartender said ‘Olive or twist?’.

Sloe gin is as enduring as the work of Dickens. During the gin craze of the mid 1700s, when gin was being made using everything from urine to sulphur acid, the drupes were used to disguise some horrors and so sloe gin became something of a poor man’s port. But by the mid-19th century the quality of gin improved and sloes were back in fashion, the gin proving particularly popular at Christmas.

Predominantly categorised as a liqueur, sloes are picked from the blackthorn shrub and left to macerate in the gin with added sugar to reduce the bitterness. You can make your own, although the season has passed and the bushes are quite thorny, so we suggest you buy it from an expert distiller instead. And the best thing about it is you can easily fill a hipflask with sloe gin and keep it as a companion on a frosty Boxing Day walk.

For something truly traditional try the Plymouth Sloe gin. Staying true to an 1883 recipe it doesn’t over dose on the sloe and balances a rich mouthfeel with a useful tart finish (The Whisky Exchange, £26.45).

Slightly sweeter is the Williams Sloe Mulberry Gin from the Chase distillery, the addition of mulberry bulking it up (£28, Waitrose).

If you’re feeling a little less Ebenezer about the whole thing, splash out on something with a lot more heat in the Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin. It weighs in at 37.8% abv and sets you back (£42.45, The Whiskey Exchange). An Australian interpretation it is made using the Shiraz grapes that flourish in the distillery’s surrounding Yarra Valley, and the gin really shines through over the sweetness of the fruit.

And if gin isn’t your thing, then opt for the excellent Sipsmith Damson vodka, which removes some of the botanical bite, but still delivers deliciously warm spicy plums around the gums (The Whisky Exchange £24.25).

The Thinking Drinkers will be providing audiences with five free drinks during performances of their acclaimed comedy show Around the World in 80 Drinks at London’s Museum of Comedy until December 23. For tickets head to

Read more in our 12 Drinks of Christmas series:
Why armagnac is the best of the brandies
The best American whiskeys to drink this Christmas
Don’t waste good sherry on granny