Every country has its traditions. England has sloe gin. Historically, sloe berries were harvested in October and November after the first frost, then infused into gin creating a rich, deep, berry-flavored liqueur.

To this day, many people, especially those who live in the countryside, still indulge in this yearly ritual, making sloe gin using their own specific technique (some folks pierce the berries, others freeze them before infusing its gin.) For those not inclined — and those of us in the States where sloe berries do not grow as wild and readily as in Europe and Asia — both Plymouth and Sipsmith provide bottled versions that are superb expressions of the liqueur.

Sloe berries grow on the Blackthorn tree and are related to plums, which gives you a clue as to their basic flavor. Blackish and thin-skinned, they are bitter if eaten raw, but express their powerful aromatics when steeped in gin. At 26% ABV, Plymouth’s version is thicker and deeper in flavor than Sipsmith’s, much like a Damson plum (which has been used for many centuries to make a Damson/gin liqueur similar to sloe gin.)

Plymouth Master Distiller Sean Harrison explains that “sloe berries [are] a very acidic fruit and almost inedible unless you do something with them. They make for a very interesting drink because you have to put sugar into them to balance the acidity and then when you mix with gin and soak for four months, you get this wonderful liqueur that’s full of fruit flavors.”

Sipsmith Bottle

Sipsmith

Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daniels

Sipsmith’s sloe gin comes in at 29% ABV and is less dense in tone and flavor, a bit brighter and lighter in contrast to Plymouth. There’s more dark cherry and less raisin-y dried plum, even a marzipan note on the finish. The company even “vintage dates” its bottlings since sloe berries, like grapes, vary each year, producing sweeter or more acidic fruits.

Brand ambassador Leilani Vella explains how Sipsmith creates its sloe gin thus: “There are many details to the process of making Sipsmith sloe gin that make it unique while honoring the tradition. First we start with wild-harvested hand-picked sloes from England, the very finest quality. Then we freeze the sloes for three days, which breaks the skin allowing the gin to absorb deep into the stone of the sloe. We rest the sloes for an extraordinarily long maceration of three to six months. This extended maceration draws out the earth and leather tones that balance the dark cherry of the fruit alongside marzipan flavors of from the stone. After three months of maceration, Sipsmith’s Master Distiller Jared Brown, begins to taste the sloe gin periodically until he feels it has achieved the desired flavor.”

Plymouth Sloe Gin Bottle

Plymouth Sloe Gin

Photo Courtesy of Plymouth Sloe Gin

As the bar community searches for new takes of classics and different ingredients for modern drinks, sloe gin has become a dynamic solution. Plymouth’s Harrison notes that sloe gin ” mixes really well with other ingredients. It’s the combination of the alcohol and the fruit that really put the flavor together.” Being rather classically minded, Harrison enjoys his sloe gin with a glass of champagne — 1/3 sloe to 2/3 champagne, which parallels a Kir Royale, the sloe gin in place of the cassis. With the tongue-in-cheek enthusiasm of an upstart, Sipsmith has been encouraging bartenders to use their sloe as a substitute for everything from maraschino liqueur to cherry herring, and also note that it plays well with other spirits, amaros, and lqiueurs.

Sloe Gin Fizz

Sloe Gin Fizz

Photo Courtesy of Wilson Daniels

Sloe Gin Fizz

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz.Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Lemon Juice
  • Club soda or Sparkling Water, to Top
  • Slice of Orange and a Cherry, for Garnish

Preparation: Combine Plymouth Sloe Gin and lemon juice in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and pour into a highball glass filled with ice and fill with club soda or sparkling water.


Sloe Motion

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz.Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 2 oz. Champagne
  • 3 blueberries, for Garnish

Preparation: Pour in the Plymouth Sloe Gin then top with champagne.


The Wibble

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz. Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
  • 1 Dash Gomme Syrup
  • 1 oz.Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1 oz.Plymouth Gin
  • Lemon Twist, for Garnish

Preparation: Fill mixing glass with ice. Add Plymouth Gin, grapefruit juice, juice from lemon and gomme syrup. Shake well. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a lemon twist.


Sloe Down & Refresh

Sloe Down & Refresh

Photo Courtesy of Plymouth Gin

Sloe Down & Refresh

Ingredients:

  • 1oz. Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Gentian Liqueur (like Suze or Salers)
  • 1/4 oz. Yuzu Juice
  • Ginger Beer, to Top
  • Lime Wedge, for Garnish

Preparation: Build ingredients in a rocks glass over ice. Top with Ginger Beer and garnish with lime wedge.


Sloe Gin Mule

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Sipsmith Sloe Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
  • Ginger Beer, to Top
  • Mint Sprig, to Garnish

Preparation: Top with ginger beer on the rock and garnish with a mint bouquet.


Sloe Mezcal Last word

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 oz. Mezcal
  • 3/4 oz. Sipsmith Sloe Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Chartreuse
  • 3/4 oz. Lime Juice
  • Lime Peel, to garnish

Preparation: Add all ingredients but garnish to a mixing glass. Shake and strain into a coupe. Add lime for garnish.


Sloe Gin Negroni

Sloe Gin Negroni

Courtesy of Wilson Daniels

Sloe Negroni

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 oz. Sipsmith London Dry
  • 3/4 oz. Sipsmith Sloe Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Campari
  • 3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
  • Lemon or Orange Peel, for Garnish

Preparation: Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir until chilled. Serve on the rocks, garnished with a lemon or orange peel.