A classic British liqueur makes a comeback, and with it, those ruby-red, Pre-Prohibition cocktails are in vogue once again.
Unless you’re English, the only encounter with sloe gin you’ve probably had was during college spring break downing Alabama Slammers or Sloe Comfortable Screws. And they were probably made with syrupy imitation sloe gin that tasted like spiked grenadine.
But, if you’ve never even heard of sloe gin, you’re not alone. As the royal family or blood sausage for breakfast, it’s a British thing. Made from sloe berries – a bluish-black, bitter plum fruit of blackthorn trees — macerating in sugar and neutral grain spirits or gin, sloe gin was traditionally served neat as a Christmastime digestive. Most likely, you were sipping on Nan’s homebrew from a family recipe that was passed down for generations.
In the early 1900s, it’s believed that American bartenders discovered this tart, ruby-red mixer and invented the Sloe Gin Fizz—which was a riff on the popular gin fizz—made of gin, citrus, sugar, and soda water. The first printed reference of this category of cocktails (spelled with only one ‘Z) was in the 1887 edition of Jerry Thomas’ Bartender’s Guide featuring six fizz recipes. The Ramos Gin Fizz—one of NOLA’s iconic cocktails—was invented around the same time in 1888. Unfortunately, there’s not one urban legend to even kick around as to who actually made the first Sloe Gin Fizz.
Until very recently, real British sloe gin stopped being available in the U.S. due to lack of popular demand (the liqueur went out of fashion in the 60s and 70s). This ushered in decades of the sugary sweet imitation sloe gin that ended up in all those ‘drinks to get lose your mind’ college cocktails.
However, sloe gin is experiencing a renaissance today. Made from a family recipe that dates back to 1883, Plymouth Sloe Gin — the first to import sloe gin to the States in 2008 — reintroduced the spirit to the American craft cocktail bar scene. And thus Sloe Gin Fizzes and other sloe gin-centric, Pre-Prohibition cocktails — like the Charlie Chaplin (sloe gin, apricot liqueur, and lime juice)—started to appear on menus again. And craft distillers noticed the uptick and followed suit.
Because blackthorn trees aren’t native to the States, many American distillers are making their own riffs on sloe gin using local plum varieties, such as Averell Damson Plum Liqueur and Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Liqueur. We even have a few true U.S. sloe gins as well: Spirit Works, based in Northern California, makes a sloe gin and the world’s only barrel reserve sloe gin, and Bitter Truth has experimented with a sloe berry gin as well.
Whether you use a traditional British sloe gin, like Sipsmith’s or Plymouth’s, or experiment with an American variation, there’s no better time to revive this delightful classic fizz. Pinkies up!
Sloe Gin Fizz
- 1 1/2 oz. Sloe Gin
- 1 oz. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 3/4 oz. Simple Syrup
- Club Soda
Garnish: Lemon Wedge and Cherry
Preparation: Add the sloe gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup into a shaker with ice. Shake until the drink is well-chilled, Fill a Collins glass with ice and strain contents into the glass. Top with club soda and garnish with a lemon wedge and cherry.