This 1904 creation features an unusual combo: Scotch and sloe gin
It’s rare to find a cocktail that uses Scotch. But one that adds sloe gin to the mix? And absinthe? Sounds bizarre, we admit. So of course we had to try it.
And are we glad we did! The flavor is outstanding – much more enticing than the sum of its parts.
Love these new-fangled modern inventions.
Recipe: The Modern Cocktail
We found this drink by way of cocktail historian extraordinaire David Wondrich. He’s written about this drink over the years, and each time he’s presented slightly different recipes. That’s typical for cocktails – the way they’re made often evolves over time as tastes change.
The recipe we discuss here is our favorite. But you may want to tinker with it by adding a bit more (or less) Scotch and/or sloe gin.
This recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare and serves 1.
- 1¼ ounce blended Scotch whisky (may increase to 1½ ounce; see Notes)
- 1¼ ounce sloe gin (may increase to 1½ ounce; see Notes)
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup (or to taste)
- 1 dash absinthe (may substitute an absinthe alternative, such as Pernod)
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- maraschino cherry for garnish (very optional)
- Place all the ingredients (except garnish) in a cocktail shaker that’s half filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the contents are well chilled (20 seconds or so).
- Strain into a cocktail glass (preferably one that has been chilled). Garnish, if you wish, and serve.
- This drink traditionally is served “up” in a cocktail glass. But we think it’s just as good served on the rocks in an Old-Fashioned glass.
- A maraschino cherry adds a festive touch to this cocktail. But we usually serve it without garnish.
- There’s a version of this drink that drops the lemon juice and simple syrup, substituting grenadine instead. It’s not bad, but it’s less interesting than the lemon-juice version.
- How to measure a “dash” of absinthe? The best way is to pour the absinthe into a bitters bottle, which will dispense the correct amount. Alternatively, you can just pour out about a scant eighth of a teaspoon. Or follow your taste. Cocktail measurements are somewhat flexible.
- Speaking of which: The measurements we suggest will yield a nicely balanced cocktail. But you may want to adjust the amount of Scotch and sloe gin to your taste. We think anything from 1 ounce to 1½ ounce of each works well in this drink. So feel free to experiment.
- Any good blended Scotch whisky will work in this drink. Just use your favorite.
- But be careful about which sloe gin you select. Most inexpensive sloe gins are sweet – too sweet for this drink. If you find a bottle of sloe gin that costs in the range of $10 to $15, you’ve probably found one of the too-sweet ones (we’re looking at you, Hiram Walker).
- For this drink, it’s better to use a sloe gin that is (much) more dry. Our current favorites are Plymouth Sloe Gin and Bitter Truth Sloeberry Gin. We’ve heard good things about Hayman’s, although we haven’t tried it. If in doubt, ask your friendly liquor store clerk for a recommendation.
- BTW, sloe gin is much more popular in Britain than in the US. So if you find an English brand (like Plymouth), it’s likely to be good.
- Our usual disclaimer: We’re noncommercial and do not get compensated for mentioning brands. We recommend only what we use and like (and buy with our own money).
- So where did The Modern Cocktail originate? Its invention is often credited to bartender Charley Mahoney, who wrote about it in his 1905 Hoffman House Bartender’s Guide. But a recipe for the drink first appeared in the December 17, 1904 edition of the National Police Gazette, which credited it to John E. Haas, a bartender at the Bradford Club in northwest Pennsylvania. We don’t know much about Mr Haas, unfortunately. But since 1904 is the earliest written record of the Modern Cocktail, we date it back to then.
- Why the name “Modern”? No one knows. Maybe because, in the early 20th century, Scotch was a fairly new spirit in cocktails. As was sloe gin.
Life in the Sloe Lane
“Scotch and sloe gin?” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “Who knew?”
“That combo gins up one heck of a drink,” I said.
“And absinthe makes the heart grow fonder,” said Mrs K R.
“Thought you were trying to scotch the puns,” I said.
“This drink has lifted my spirits,” said Mrs K R. “I’m feeling generous.”
“Good,” I said. “Wouldn’t want you to get sloe witted.”
“Not that generous,” said Mrs K R.
Guess I better sloe down.
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And it looks outstanding! I really enjoy your cocktail recipes and photography, John.
Hi Angie, we enjoy all the "research" we do for cocktails. :-) Thanks for the comment.
YUM! It looks beautiful and tasty.
Hi Pam, the combo of ingredients sounds really odd, but the flavor is quite good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, your cocktail posts are like a Master Class in booze—and I mean that in the best possible way. I always leave having learned some fascinating facts—about a cocktail's history, a form of liquor, advice on kinds to seek out... Once again, a great post. Thanks!
That is a gorgeous looking cocktail! Do y'all need a research assistant? Volunteering!
Hi Terry, we do enjoy our research! There's so much to learn. And it helps to find a good liquor store. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Anne, it's good! And we can always use taste testers :-) Thanks for the comment.
Oh, my father used to tease my sister-in-law mercilessly because she liked sloe gin fizzes... I don't know if I ever tried one! This is a fascinating sounding sip, John! Thanks!
Hi David, a sloe gin fizz is actually an OK drink -- but use good sloe gin. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Sounds thirst quenching! Which I need about now!
Hi Abbe, this really has delightful flavor! We'll probably have another round this weekend. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Stunning Shot John :) I love your cocktail recipes.
Hi Priya, we certainly enjoy drinking cocktails, but it's their great good looks -- and their history! -- that's particularly fun. :-) Thanks for the comment.
gin at $10 a bottle? I laughed out loud when i read this. the cheapest bottle of normal gin here would be $38 on special. and sloe gin is about $95 for half a litre!! but anyway your cocktail looks lovely:)
An interesting cocktail John. I must admit, I've not had sloe gin since my underage drinking days. It made an awfully good cherry coke. I would of never thought to mix scotch and sloe gin. I've got to mix a Modern Cocktail up soon...
It looks so pretty with the cherry, I can imagine a femme fatale holding this in an old movie☺
This is a unique cocktail and one that we would want to slow sip. Maybe served on ice like an old fashion, might be best for us. Wishing you both a super week ahead. Take Care
Hi Sherry, it's really bad industrial grade stuff. :-) But yeah, it's out there. Thanks for the comment.
Hi Ron, yup when I was an underage tad, sloe gin was all the rage. Awful stuff we drank -- but it was the cheap, sweet stuff. The grown up stuff is pretty good. And isn't that a strange combo of spirits? I would never have thought the two would work together to make a decent drink, but they sure do. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Natalia, Mrs KR likes the cherry version -- you could say she's a bit of a femme fatale. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Bobbi, we rather like this one on ice. Good slow sipper, as you suggest. :-) Thanks for the comment.
That is such a pretty cocktail, just love the colour. Sounds perfect for our upcoming Thanksgiving feast.
Hi Eva, this would be a wonderful Thanksgiving drink! :-) Happy Thanksgiving to you. BTW, we sometimes celebrate Canada's Thanksgiving as well as our own simply because we enjoy the Thanksgiving meal so much! Thanks for the comment.
A cocktail with scotch?! OK, this is so interesting and need to try it!!!
Hi Ashley, sound weird, but it's excellent. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Interesting that Scotch is used in cocktails much but now that you mention it, I don't remember seeing it in any cocktail. An interesting combination of liquors. Don't think I've ever tried sloe gin, but since, as you mention, it's more popular in Britain the the US, I guess that's understandable. Very nice looking cocktail.
Hi MJ, sloe gin has never been that popular in the US, at least as far as I know. Good sloe gin is quite nice. :-) Thanks for the comment.
It definitely is pretty! I've sipped scotch but do not recall drinking it in a cocktail. I love extra dry gin but sloe gin is on the sweet side. And it sounds like booze is definitely cheaper by you! This is a must try as soon as I buy some sloe gin! Take care
Hello, John! I'm glad to have found your blog , with so many mouth watering recipes. You have done an amazing job with your website. This cocktail looks so refreshing , love the final touch with the maraschino cherry, Amazing click!
Hi Pam, good sloe gin isn't sweet -- but that cheap stuff sure is! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Aarthi, maraschino cherries always look amazing as a garnish, don't they? Thanks for the comment.
I'd definitely give this a try! The color is lovely, too.
Hi Amy, we've become rather fond of this drink -- very nice for fall! :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is one that just has to be tasted! There is nothing to compare it to! GREG
Hi Greg, isn't this a terrific drink? We're having it again sometime this weekend. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I think my husband would love this one! Exactly the type of cocktail he'd be excited to order when we're out. I'll give it a go for him. Thanks! Have a great weekend, John. :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, I'll be curious to see if your husband likes this. The ingredient list sounds so odd, but the flavor is terrific. We had this again last night! :-) Thanks for the comment.
This sounds so interesting. As always, I love your notes and suggestions.
Hi Jeff, this really is worth trying -- an unusual drink. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Love any gin-based drink! And this one is so pretty, too. Cheers!
Its just 5pm and its so dark and gloomy outside. I wish I had this right now. Thanks for sharing all the notes John, its very informative
Hi Carolyn, pretty and good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Rahul, if it's 5 o'clock, it's time for a drink! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'd feel like Katharine Hepburn with that cocktail in my hand.
Hi Amalia, it is kind of a classy cocktail, isn't it? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Seems like a tasty drink with that unusual combo and pretty too.
Hi Balvinder, it's really good! Despite that VERY unusual combo of ingredients. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I know I would love the flavors in this cocktail. I wouldn't mind that it seems to be on the more potent side either ;)
Another gorgeous cocktail! I think an episode in high school ruined me for sloe gin for the rest of my life. Ha! But you have plenty of other winners from which to choose!!!
This is such an elegant cocktail John...like the idea of whiskey and gin...beautiful photos as always.
Have a wonderful rest of the week!
Hi Laura, just sip it slowly and it won't be as strong. Well, it will be, but it'll take longer to have an effect. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, the sloe gin we all drank in high school was awful! Good sloe gin is pretty good stuff. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Juliana, its flavor is awesome -- really nice. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow, this does sound like an odd combination of flavors, but I trust your judgment. If you say you liked it, I may give it a go...
Hi Frank, it's definitely worth trying. We actually like this quite a bit, and I think you will too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Wow! Scotch and gin, never I had seen that together apart from when it is in my system already :)
Hi Raymund, sloe gin is something I'd never expect to see paired with Scotch. Works, though. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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