Most of us in the United States have never had the pleasure of tasting real Sloe Gin. Sure there’s the ubiquitous dusty bottle of something of questionable origin labeled “Sloe Gin” in every bar and dark corner of the liquor store in the country, but these are always artificially flavored and colored, cotton candy sweet swill that have never even seen a real sloe berry.
Ripe Sloe Berries
Real sloe berries are the fruit of the Blackthorn bush and are native to Europe and western Asia. The plant grows wild all over England, it flowers late in the spring and will produce ripe fruit usually in late October or early November. The fruit of the Blackthorn is similar to Damsons or plums but taste quite a bit more astringent.
In Britain, it is popular to use the berries to make jams and jellies. What’s left over is destined to be made into Sloe Gin, a traditional wintertime drink in the UK. Sloe Gin in Europe is an infusion of sloe berries, spices like clove and cinnamon, a little sugar and of course, gin.
Most quality sloe gin is of the homemade variety; thus, leaving us poor blackthorn-less Americans to make due with the poor quality commercial brands.
But that was true only until recently. Plymouth began importing small batches of its authentic sloe gin to the U.S. a couple of years ago, initially only a 1000 cases a year were bought in and were greedily snapped up by bartenders everywhere (by ‘everywhere’ I mean New York City). The number of cases imported has grown steadily and it is in regular supply now in most major markets. Another option will hopefully be coming to market soon as the New York gin distiller, DH Krahn, is developing a damson gin which was making its rounds in New Orleans at the cocktail superfest Tales of the Cocktail this year.
A couple of months ago I purchased a bottle of the Plymouth Sloe Gin, but didn’t do anything with it until recently when I randomly decided to try it in a Sloe Gin Fizz. The fizz was once a wildly popular drink (late 1800s to the 1940s) and was a natural evolution of the sour consisting of spirit, sugar, citrus and a bit of soda off the siphon. During Prohibition, American bartenders who had traveled to Europe to ply their trade began adding a dash of egg white to their sours to give them a silkier mouthfeel. This practice made the jump back to the United States after the Noble Experiment ended in 1933. The Sloe Gin Fizz, as far as I can tell, was first mixed up in the early 1940s; thus, we can conclude that a touch of egg white in this drink would be appropriate.
Sloe Gin Fizz
1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
3/4 oz. Gin (Blue Coat)
3/4 oz. Lemon Juice
1 tsp. Superfine Sugar
1 small egg white
-Combine all ingredients in a shaker, without ice, and dry shake for 10-15 seconds to emulsify the egg. Add ice and shake a further 15 seconds to chill. Strain into a collins glass and top with soda. Garnish with an orange wheel and cherry if you like.
One quick note: fizzes and sours were designed as ‘short’ drinks, meaning they were served in a glass without ice and are intended to be consumed swiftly. ‘Long’ drinks are served on ice as to keep them chilled over an extended time as you sip them.
There are an awful lot of Sloe Gin Fizzes in a bottle of sloe gin. So to help break up the monotony, here are a few great bonus cocktail recipes to help you along:
1 oz Plymouth Sloe Gin
1 oz. Rothman & Winter Orchard Apricot Liqueur
1 oz. Lime Juice
– Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
1 1/2 oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
– Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
1 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Blackberry Liqueur
-Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.