These days, for better or for worse, flavored spirits are all the rage. (Wedding cake vodka: definitely for worse.) But it’s worth looking back in time and paying tribute to the original flavored liquors, made with quality spirits and real fruits, each with proud traditions of its own.
There’s no better example than sloe gin, a British favorite, made from steeping dark purple sloe berries with gin and sugar. Never heard of sloe berries? That’s because the little fruits taste pretty terrible on their own; only when steeped in booze do their more redeeming qualities emerge. (Funny, we know some humans like that, too.)
Today, Plymouth—one of the world’s classic gin brands—makes its sloe gin from a recipe dating from 1883. At about 26 percent ABV, sloe gin drinks like a fruit liqueur, rather than a gin. But while there’s a distinct, dark-berry sweetness, it’s balanced by the fruit’s own vivid acidity, and a little nuttiness from the fruit’s stone, which steeps in there too.
Though traditionally sipped neat, sloe gin’s deep fruit flavors and balance of sweet and tart make it an ideal candidate for summer cocktails. Here are three of our favorites—all easy to shake up at home, and requiring nothing more than a trip to the grocery store.
Easy: Sloe Gin and Tonic
If you’re into sloe gin, you’ll probably enjoy it on ice with just a little soda. But we think it works even better with the slight herbal bite of a good tonic water, like Fever-Tree—plus, what’s more classic than a G&T? A lime wedge is all the adornment it needs.
Instructions: Add 1½ ounces of sloe gin to a tall glass or a rocks glass with ice. Top with 4 ounces of tonic water. Garnish with a lime wedge.
Intermediate: Nice and Sloe
Sloe gin is great as the starring ingredient of a cocktail, but its distinctive flavor works well as a supporting player to various spirits, too. Here, we’re using it as an accent in a light–bodied rum cocktail, where lemon and mint pair nicely with the sloe gin’s rich berry notes.
Instructions: To a cocktail shaker with ice, add 5 to 8 mint leaves, 1½ ounces of dry white rum (we like Brugal Extra Dry), ¾ ounce of sloe gin, ¾ ounce of lemon juice, ¼ ounce of simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal amount of hot water). Shake all that up and strain it into a cocktail coupe. Serve garnished with a mint sprig.
Advanced: Sloe Gin Silver Fizz
This is a classic sloe gin drink, but in our version, we’re going with a few modifications. While the traditional version uses no liquor but sloe gin, we think that a backbone of classic gin makes it all the better. Use Plymouth gin or, if you really want something a little more fun, Plymouth Navy Strength, the higher-octane (but still beautifully balanced) version. At 57 percent ABV, Navy Strength gin takes this drink from a light, sweet sipper to a fully realized cocktail that’s perfect for brunch.
If you’re unfamiliar with egg white in cocktails, its appearance here may seem strange. All it contributes is a little more body, resulting in a richer, foamy texture. Rest assured that the drink won’t taste like egg at all.
Instructions: To a cocktail shaker without ice, add 1 egg white, ½ ounce of fresh lemon juice, ½ ounce of lime juice, ¾ ounce of simple syrup (sugar dissolved in an equal amount of hot water), 1 ounce of sloe gin and 1 ounce of classic gin (Navy Strength, if you’re feeling daring). Shake all that up without ice—that’s called a “dry shake,” which helps foam up the egg white. Then add ice, shake again and strain the mixture into a tall glass without ice. Add 2 ounces of soda to top. Garnish with lemon and orange wheels, or brandied cherries. Drink quickly!