The Gin Bothy, an artisan distillery in Angus, carries a sign outside reading “Sloes welcome – payment in gin”.
The dearth of sloes is being blamed on an outbreak of a fungus which destroys the distinctive purple berries and has been thriving thanks to this year’s mixed weather conditions.
Kim Cameron, who makes a range of fruit-flavoured gins at the Gin Bothy on a farm near Kirriemuir, said: “We source our berries locally and we’re usually surrounded by sloes on the farm, but we haven’t had enough to make sloe gin this year.
“We’re hoping that they come back. Where the berries are has always been a bit of a secret and the sign was a bit of a joke. But I do have a team of mostly elderly people who know where to look in the hedgerows.”
George Anderson of the Woodland Trust, a keen forager in and around Edinburgh and East Lothian, said reports from the organisation’s volunteer nature recorders suggested that a fungus called Taphrina pruni was the main cause.
“It is pretty much everywhere… Back in summer many deformed berries were rotting on the branches. When I went out at that time there was black mush dripping off the trees. There is nothing to see now on most trees except a lack of sloes. October is generally when people go out to gather the sloes, but this year many are going to find bare trees at their usual spots.”
The fungus is thought to have taken hold thanks to a combination of a cold, damp spring followed by a hot summer. Nicholas Cook, director-general of The Gin Guild, said: “There is a problem this year … and we have some miserable-looking berries. Sloes will be back, though. And in the meantime there are plenty of other gins to choose from with new brands popping up each week.”
With gin’s recent rise in popularity fuelling a surge in new makers such as the Gin Bothy, distillers also suggested that increased demand is also having an impact on supplies.
Meanwhile, in south-west Scotland foragers said better weather there had produced a good sloe harvest this year.