When you hear the term Sloe Gin, you tend to think of wandering through country roads and foraging on the edge of fields. After all, Sloes are the fruit of the Blackthorn tree, a prickly bush found in the hedgerows that line England’s roads and fields,
Sloes are a type of wild plum, and when eaten raw are particularly astringent, but soaked in gin, this berry-like fruit adds a brisk tartness and a vibrant ruby colour to the resulting liqueur.
Sloe gin was traditionally drunk in the depths of winter, as a warming drink, until the Americans got a hold of it and made it into a summer ingredient by mixing it with citrus and soda water. Thus was born the Sloe Gin Fizz, arguably the most famous sloe gin cocktail out there. Sloe gin had a bit of a slump in the 60s and 70s, a pretty dark time for cocktails in general.
During that time, Sloe Gin was often artificially flavoured and coloured, so many viewed Sloe Gin as a low-rent liqueur, a formula of mystery fruit mixed with grain alcohol, corn syrup and red dye.
More recently, many Sloe Gins have returned to traditional recipes, which in turn has risen the status of this traditional liqueur from irrelevant to celebrated.
Once picked, Sloe berries are then added to a wide-necked jar alongside sugar and gin. The jar is then sealed, mixed together and stored in a cool, dark place. The jar is turned regularly until three months have passed and after this time the gin starts to show a deep ruby red colour.
Though a rich burst of fruit is essential, so too is the ability to taste the complexity of the gin underneath. A good sloe gin should balance sweetness and bitterness, avoiding being a syrupy, jam-like sugar hit, instead of delivering something warming and flavoursome.
Depending on the gin, you may get some spice, and you may get some almond nuttiness, but either way should present a pleasantly tart flavour with attractive juniper and herbal notes.