Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sloe Gin Fizz

Sloe Gin Fizz

A Blast from the Past

When was the last time you had a Sloe Gin Fizz?  Or a Sloe Gin Anything?

I’ll bet many readers have never tasted sloe gin.  Even if you’re familiar with it, it’s probably been a while since you’ve had it.  As in decades.

Which is too bad, because (decent quality) sloe gin has a delightfully sweet-tart taste.  It can be quite refreshing on a hot day, particularly in a Sloe Gin Fizz.  Made properly, it’s a drink that’s ideal for summer sippin’.

So we should get started learning (or relearning) how to mix it.  The sooner we do, the sooner we can enjoy our next (or first!) Sloe Gin Fizz. 

Sloe Gin Fizz

What Is Sloe Gin?

Sloe Gin gets its flavor from the bittersweet sloe berry, a purplish-colored relative of the plum. The blackthorn shrub on which it grows is native to England, and sloe gin has always been more popular there than in the US.

Most sloe gins are actually liqueurs or cordials, which means they contain more sugar per liter than regular spirits. Liqueurs also tend to be lower proof than other spirits — often as low as 30 proof (15% alcohol content) — which is why you should store them in the refrigerator after opening. Because of their low alcohol quotient, liqueurs lose flavor and quality quickly once opened (exposure to air oxidizes them; refrigeration retards that process).

Many sloe gins sold in the US are made by infusing inexpensive neutral grain alcohol with flavorings. In the past, some of the stuff made this way was vile. But the neutral grain-based versions you buy today often are quite decent — though not as good as the versions made by infusing actual gin with sloe berries.

In both cases, the end product is rather sweet, because sugar is required to help extract juice from sloe berries. Sloe gin made with actual gin is usually much higher proof than versions made with neutral-grain spirits (although it’s still less alcoholic than regular gin).

In the US, liquor stores tend to stock only 1 or 2 varieties of sloe gin. What you’re most likely to find in your local store is Hiram Walker, an inexpensive brand. It typically costs about $10, and is 30 proof (prices can vary across the US because each state taxes alcohol differently.)

Two traditional (i.e., gin based) sloe gins are available in the US market: Plymouth (which is made in England) and Bitter Truth (made in Germany). Both can be difficult to find.

In fact, I haven’t yet been able to get my hands on Plymouth Sloe Gin, though I’ve read reports saying its quality is outstanding. (Plymouth also makes a regular gin that is one of my favorites, particularly in a Martini.)

I have tried Bitter Truth SloeBerry Blue Gin, which is wonderful. It’s a 56-proof product with a tint that’s more blue than the traditional bright red often associated with sloe gin. It’s also much drier — less sweet — than the cheaper sloe gins (though it’s definitely still sweet). And it’s much more expensive. A bottle of Bitter Truth SloeBerry Blue Gin will set you back $35 or so.

Hiram Walker and Bitter Truth Sloe Gin

Recipe:  Sloe Gin Fizz

Because the alcohol content of sloe gins can vary, how you make your drink depends on which type you buy.  For this post, I tested both Bitter Truth SloeBerry Blue Gin and Hiram Walker Sloe Gin.  Bitter Truth has a deeper, more complex flavor, and makes the superior drink.  Hiram Walker is enjoyable, but makes a less compelling cocktail. 

If you’re using Bitter Truth or Plymouth Sloe Gin, you’ll need 2 ounces per drink, plus a little extra sugar.  (Many fizzes — particularly the Sloe Gin Fizz — tend to taste better when they’re on the sweet side). 

If you’re using inexpensive, low-proof sloe gin that costs $10 or so per bottle, then use half sloe gin and half regular gin.  (And less sugar — because the sloe gin you’re using is likely to be really sweet to begin with.  Many of these inexpensive sloe gins are specifically intended to be mixed with a spirit.)  Why add regular gin?  Two reasons:  To increase the alcohol content of the drink, and to add some actual gin flavor.  Without the added gin, your Sloe Gin Fizz will have less alcoholic content than a glass of wine.  And boy will it be sweet!

My recipe assumes you’ll be using the less expensive sloe gin, but includes ingredients and procedures for both types.  For this drink, you should use a tall glass that holds 8 to 12 ounces (8 is traditional — see Notes — but any tallish glass works). 

This recipe serves one, but you can easily scale it up to make any number of drinks.  Mixing time is 5 minutes (or less). 

  • 1 ounce sloe gin (increase to 2 ounces if using the expensive stuff, like Bitter Truth or Plymouth Sloe Gin; see headnote)
  • 1 ounce regular gin (omit if using an expensive sloe gin)
  • ½ to 1 ounce fresh lemon juice (I prefer 1 ounce, but I like lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon Simple Syrup (you may want to increase this amount if using a more expensive sloe gin; you can also substitute granulated sugar — see Notes) 
  • club soda or seltzer water to top up (1 - 2 ounces)
  • lemon wheel or wedge as garnish (optional and not traditional, but colorful)
  1. Add the sloe gin, regular gin (if using), lemon juice, and Simple Syrup to a cocktail shaker half-filled with ice (you can also mix this drink in the glass; see Notes).
  2. Shake until cold (20 seconds), then strain into a tall glass filled to within an inch of the lip with ice cubes or cracked ice.
  3. Top off with club soda or seltzer, and garnish with a lemon wheel or wedge, and serve.  I serve this drink with straws, but many people omit straws when serving fizzes. 
Sloe Gin Fizz

  • It’s better to use Simple Syrup rather than table sugar when making this (or almost any) drink. Why? Because simple syrup is a liquid solution, so it dissolves instantly. Table sugar can take a while to dissolve. 
  • I like to shake the ingredients for this drink because shaking does a better job of blending in the lemon juice. But you can make this drink in the glass, if you wish. Simply add the sloe gin, regular gin (if using), lemon juice, and simple syrup, then stir until the juice is well incorporated. Top up with fizzy water. 
  • Last week we discussed the Tom Collins, which is a type of sour (like the Whiskey Sour). A Collins-class drink is served in a tall glass topped with sparkling water and festooned with a garnish (usually an orange slice or wheel and a maraschino cherry).
  • A Fizz (such as a Sloe Gin Fizz) is the first cousin to a Collins.  What’s the difference between the two?  Well, originally (back in the 19th century) Fizzes were pick-me-up drinks, served in the morning.  You’d upend a Fizz and consume it in 2 or 3 swallows.  Really.  The Collins was intended to be a slow sipper.
  • Back then, a Fizz was always served in a shorter glass than a Collins, and usually without ice.  
  • Nowadays, the two drinks are almost always served in the same-sized glass (who has room for all that glassware inventory?)  So the only real distinction between a modern Fizz and a Collins is the garnish — which a Collins always has, and a Fizz traditionally lacks.  
  • But a lot of people garnish Fizzes anyway.  So the real difference today is that we call one a Collins, and the other a Fizz.
  • Hey, I just drink ‘em — I don’t make the rules.
  • Now that I have you muttering in confusion, let me offer some good news:  Once you know how to make one Fizz, you basically know how to make them all.  They all use 2 ounces of booze (or 1½ ounces if you prefer), and ½ to 1 ounce of lemon juice (your preference), plus 1 or 2 teaspoons of Simple Syrup (again, your preference).  Shake, strain into an ice-filled glass, and top with fizzy water.
  • There are lots of different Fizzes to mix, should you choose.  The Gin Fizz is even more famous than the Sloe Gin Fizz.  There are also Whiskey Fizzes, Ramos Gin Fizzes (made with egg white and orange-flower water), and Golden Fizzes (made with beaten whole egg), among others.
  • But none of them are as pretty as the Sloe Gin Fizz.  And none carry the baggage that we of (ahem) a certain age associate with the Sloe Gin Fizz.
Sloe Gin Fizz

Perfect for Father’s Day

Back in the day, sloe gin was a rite of passage for many of us.  It was the first “spirit” we enjoyed in our youth.  It was sweet and didn’t really taste like alcohol.  It looked nice in the glass.  And it went down smoothly.

Too smoothly, in fact.  Many an excitable youth gulped more than he could handle — often inadvertently.  And suffered the inevitable consequences the next morning.  Which is why some people have less than pleasant memories of the Sloe Gin Fizz.

Still, lots of folks remember it fondly.  It was their first cocktail, after all. 

My father is in the latter camp.  In college, the Sloe Gin Fizz was his drink of choice.  And sometimes when we have cocktails together — which we try to do most weeks — he’ll reminisce about the Sloe Gin Fizz.  Think he’s been dropping a hint?

Well, this year our Father’s Day festivities will be at my sister’s house, but I’ll be providing the cocktails.  And it will be Sloe Gin Fizzes for everyone.  (Hope you’re thirsty, dad!)

Maybe your father would enjoy one too?  It’s a great way to celebrate, and you’ll get to discover (or rediscover) a classic cocktail.

And learn again what you already knew:  Sometimes father really does know best.

You may also enjoy reading about:
Cocktail Basics
Simple Syrup
Tom Collins
Mojito Cocktail
Whiskey Sour
Dry Martini Cocktail
Pegu Club
Gin and Tonic
Mai Tai
Classic Daiquiri
Negroni Cocktail
Pimm's Cup


the wicked noodle said...

I've never had a sloe gin anything, although I've heard of it. You've convinced me that I need to try it though! Looks great!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Wicked Noodle, it's worth trying. The good stuff is really good - we'll probably buy a bottle of that every summer, because it's a nice drink. The cheap stuff? Not bad, but if that's all I was able to buy, it'd be a once-every-few-years sort of thing. Thanks for your comment.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

You've convinced me to try it. My sister has just made damsen plum gin which might be a kind of sloe gin. I am just waiting for it to be ready to taste. Love your photos, by the way.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Susanne, let me know what the damson plum gin is like! I've never tasted damson plums (at least that I remember) but my impression is that they have a tart side to them. Thanks for your comment.

Baker Street said...

I've never tried a sloe gin anything!! But this looks fantastic and must be tried! :)

tania @ A Perfect Pantry said...

The colour is so gorgeous... though like everyone else I haven't tried sloe gin either... Looks good.

Carolyn Jung said...

Obviously, I am not the cocktail specialist. I give: What is the difference between regular gin and sloe gin?

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Baker Street, it's a fun drink! It has a very distinctive flavor, and does look really pretty. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi tania, Sloe Gin really hasn't been popular in the US for decades, so I suspect very few people reading this will have tried it. In fact I hadn't tried it for decades before I wrote this post! But I really enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Carolyn, regular gin is clear (like water) and tastes of juniper berries (always) and other herbs. Not a strong taste, but pretty distinct - kind of a flavored vodka. Sloe gin may or may not be made from actual gin (the more expensive sloe gins are), and the flavor of the sloe berries is very front and center and in your face. And of course it's a red or purplish color. If sloe gin didn't have "gin" in its name, you'd never think of it as gin - it really quite a different beast. Thanks for taking time to comment.

Asmita said...

I haven't tried sloe gin but this drink looks amazing!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Oh, can you make one for me? Perfect. I'd love to sip this lovely slow gin on my balcony.



Beth said...

You're right - I've never tried sloe gin. I wonder if my husband would like one for Father's Day?

My drink that "went down too smoothly" was a Screwdriver. Never had once since.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Asmita, it's really pretty! And quite refreshing - a real classic. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Rosa, I'd be delighted to make one for you! A slow sipper like this is a delightful balcony drink. Thanks for commenting.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Beth, he might well like it! It's a conversation starter, that's for sure. I was a bit dubious of this drink at first because I remembered the sloe gin of my youth, which wasn't very good. The more expensive stuff you can buy now is quite good; the less expensive, less good but quite acceptable (you need to get the sugar balance right, which isn't hard). thanks for your comment.

Maureen @ Orgasmic Chef said...

What? There are women who have never gone to a bar or pub and ordered a sloe screw?

On another note, I have had a sloe gin fizz and I like those too. The pics are gorgeous...again. :)

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Maureen, ;-) There's a ton of drinks that have names that have double entendres or are slightly risque or both. Maybe if I do another Summer Sippin' Series next year I could make those the theme? Again, maybe not. :-) Thanks (again!) for your kind words and your comment.

wok with ray said...

Very attractive drink and vibrant color. I would have a glass of your sloe gin anytime. Make that a tall glass please. :)

~ ray ~

Vicki Bensinger said...

I don't think I've had one of these since the late 70s and quite frankly can't recall what it tastes like. It does look refreshing though. As always great tips and photos. I wonder if I asked for one at a restaurant if the bartender would even know how to make one!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Ray, it's pretty, isn't it? And a long, cool drink is the way to go with this cocktail IMO. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Vicki, my impression is that sloe gin plummeted in popularity after vodka took hold, and that changeover occurred in the 70s as I recall. I doubt if many restaurant bars would have sloe gin, but it's worth a try. Some restaurants are quite proud of their cocktails, and that's where I'd try asking. But apart from finding one that has sloe gin, finding one that freshly squeezes citrus is pretty difficult (most use commercial sour mix, a great deal of which is pretty vile IMO). Thanks for taking time to comment.

Nami | Just One Cookbook said...

You are so expert in cold drinks! I'm not much of a drinker so I'm new to this drink, but I'm just mesmerized by the beauty of this drink! :-)

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Nami, you're so kind! It is a pretty drink though, isn't it? Such a great subject. Thanks for your comment.

mjskit said...

Nope - I've never had a sloe gin. I've seen sloe gin at the liquor store, but just walked on by. Guess it's time to pick up a bottle. You've sparked my curiosity. Loving this series of yours and your photography is off the charts!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi mjskit, it' a fun drink to try. And isn't this series a hoot? I'm having a great time with it. Thanks for your kind words, and the comment.

Marina@Picnic at Marina said...

When we lived in Europe, we use to drink it sometimes. Now, where did you find it in US? I want some... :)

Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

Master of drinks much, this is stunning :D

Choc Chip Uru

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Marina, my impression is that sloe gin currently is more popular in Europe than it is in the US. Certainly the 2 best sloe gins readily available in the US come from England and Germany. I'm lucky in that St. Louis has several quite good wine & liquor stores, so I was able to find Bitter Truth (one of the good quality sloe gins). I would think many liquor stores would carry one of the inexpensive sloe gins like Hiram Walker, wherever one lives (but perhaps not). These are a definite step down from the expensive sloe gins, but still fun to drink. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Guru Uru, ;-) Thanks for the kind words, and the comment.

cakewhiz said...

i don't drink gin but i have to admit, this drink does sound fabulous and it looks very colorful!

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi cakewhiz, too bad! You taste primarily the flavor of the sloe berries in this drink — they're exceptionally flavorful. But it is a gin-based drink, there's no getting around that. Thanks for taking time to comment.

MyFudo™ said...

Looks so refreshing! How did I survive my past summers without this? =)

Sofie Dittmann @thegermanfoodie said...

I don't think I've ever had this in my life, but now I plan to. :)

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi MyFudo, how indeed did you?! ;-) It really is refreshing. Thanks for your comment.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Sofie, you've got some catching up to do! ;-) It's a delicious drink - I'd think you'd like it. Thanks for your comment.

Raymund said...

Love your photo in this one

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Raymund, it's really a fun drink to photograph! So much color. Thanks for your reply.

Kristi @ My San Francisco Kitchen said...

Oooh I have never tried this, but I am always looking for new drink recipes...I will have to try it, thanks :) The color is so pretty

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Kristi, it's really a gorgeous drink! And pretty tasty, which is even more important. Hope you enjoy it! Thanks for commenting.

katherine Martinelli said...

I always love your factoids, and here my favorite is the fact that fizzes were morning pick me up drinks! Yikes. I've had sloe gin a few times before and am happy to see its having a resurgence. I'll definitely keep my eyes open for it.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Katherine, this used to be a much harder-drinking nation than we are now. The good sloe gins are definitely worth having - a nice summer drink. Thanks for your comment.

Unknown said...

I remember in the early 80's whenever I went out all I ever drank was sloe ginn fizz, but don't let that lil cocktail fool you, cause this drink will sneak up on you , so sip with caution but enjoy. :-)

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi Shelia, the color does make this look like an innocent drink, but you're right that it can certainly pack a bit of a wallop! Thanks for the comment.

d said...

I ask for slo gin fizz all the time at restaurants...haven't found one since the 70`s :-( bummer.

Kitchen Riffs said...

Hi d, look harder! I've been seeing it around a lot more the last couple of years. Or just go to a liquor store and buy a bottle. :-) Thanks for the comment.