Sloe gin is one of those liqueurs, like crème de menthe and peach schnapps, that strongly recall the dark days of American cocktails. You’d no sooner order a sloe gin fizz than you would a banana daiquiri or a brandy Alexander. But if you get Trish Gavin at the Hewing (see Craft Cocktails, I’m Trying to Break Your Heart at Hewing Hotel) to make one for you, or if you buy a bottle and use her recipe, below, it’ll make you a believer in this arcane liqueur.
Sloe gin was born in rural Britain, where sloe berries, the fruit of the blackthorn shrub, made for a popular year-end gin infusion. It tastes great in January, the season when the tart and tannic fruits—cranberries, elderberries, and damsons—come stewed with a healthy dose of sugar. Sloe gin delivers that same sweet pucker, with some astringency and alcohol to balance it out.
There’s no sense in getting sloe gin from the bottom shelf (DeKuyper’s will remind you why sloe gin was banished from bars to begin with.) Sipsmith, recently introduced to the Twin Cities, is a quality one. Hayman’s and Plymouth make fine versions, too.
Add a half an ounce of sloe gin to a Champagne flute and top it with sparkling wine for a play on the kir royale. Mix it 2:1 with a good sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters for a blackthorn cocktail. It’s also a great liqueur to build a punch on—think raspberries, lemons, and cava. And if the sloe fruit’s medicinal taste is too present for your liking, steep the whole bottle on a handful of fresh blackberries for a few days, then strain and use as normal.
Trish Gavin’s Sloe Gin Fizz
1½ ounce Sipsmith Sloe Gin
½ ounce Sipsmith London Dry Gin
1 ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce lemon juice
3 dashes Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
1 egg white
2 ounces club soda
Shake the first six ingredients briefly to combine, until the ice is just chipping. (Don’t overshake, or you’ll make the egg white taste dry and tannic.) Strain off ice and shake again, until drink is frothy and moving as a unit in the shaker (Gavin calls this stage “meringuing.”) Add club soda, and double strain (Hawthorne and fine mesh) into a Collins glass to homogenize the bubbles throughout the drink. Garnish with a few drops of bitters atop the foam.