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.
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)
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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