Sloe Gin: A Tart, Historical Liqueur That's Making a Comeback
So you might have recently seen a cocktail on a menu featuring sloe gin. Maybe you've seen a bottle of it at your favorite liquor store. If that's the case, you were likely intrigued by the liqueur's deep red color. Sloe gin is a gin-based liqueur (or it should be), kind of like Pimm's No. 1's fruity cousin. The reason you might be seeing it more at local bars is likely because its tart but still sweet tang adds a unique twist to cocktails that you have to try.
"Sloe" isn't some weird olde tyme reference to the speed at which you should consume the liqueur or the cocktails you can make from it. Rather, it is the Old English name of the drupe (basically a berry with a pit) that comes off of a blackthorn shrub. In making sloe gin, you basically just add drupes to gin and let it sit.
While you could technically infuse any gin with any fruit in this manner (with some modifications) sloe drupes work particularly well for this because they naturally have such an intense flavor. Plus, that astringent, tart flavor means the berry isn't really suitable for eating anyway. You can certainly make a sloe marmalade, but, if you happen to come across sloe drupes (which would be rare in Arizona or outside of Europe in general) making sloe gin is the way to go.
However, if you're not into home infusions, you can just buy bottles of sloe gin too. Plymouth probably makes the easiest, tastiest sloe gin that you can get your hands on with a bottle running at about $25. On the cheaper end, Hiram Walker offers up a sloe gin liqueur as well for about $10. Fee Brothers makes a sloe gin cordial that's about the same price, though it can be difficult to find. Hayman's, Bols, and Bitter Truth all make sloe varieties, but they are also fairly hard to find.
If you're looking for a sloe liqueur with a bit more of a boozy kick, the Italian-made Bargnolino is usually about 40 to 45% ABV, while English-style sloe gins are closer to the 25 to 30% range. What you definitely don't want is the kind of sloe gin that can be found out there that's pretty much just an artificially flavored grain alcohol, so make sure you read the label before buying.
Once you have your bottle picked out, it's time to mix up a drink. Sloe gin carries some of the same tartness as the drupe it's infused from, so try it with some soda water over ice first just to get a sense of its flavor. Expect it to be a bit syrupy. From there, anywhere you'd use a bitter or herbal liqueur, you can try subbing it out with sloe gin. When it comes to cocktails, one of the most well-known sloe-based drinks is a tart, sweet, summery sloe gin fizz, which David Wondrich (my cocktail hero) says is prepared thusly:
- 2 ounces sloe gin
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon superfine sugar
- topped off with club soda
However, any bar that carries sloe gin should be able to mix you one up pretty easily if you aren't ready to commit to a full bottle. You can also try out sloe gin at Clever Koi, where it's mixed with bourbon and shiso, in one of the bar's signature cocktails called the Sloe Burn.
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