DOTW: Millionaire

Posted by Anita on 04.28.08 11:59 PM

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**It’s been good year for lost ingredients. Obsessive cocktail geeks can now whip up once-impossible drinks, courtesy of newly minted versions of pimento dram, creme de violette, absinthe, and other revivals. And soon, sloe gin will join the ranks of the resurrected, opening up a new chapter of vintage cocktails to modern palates.

Nitpickers will counter that sloe gin was never truly lost. And yes, any well-stocked suburban liquor barn probably has a dusty bottle or two on hand for frat boys looking to whip up a batch of Alabama Slammers. But these so-called sloe gins are no more than low-quality, one-note wonders packed with sugar and artificial fruitiness; many don’t even start with a gin base. Truly, they’re so far removed from the real thing that most cocktail enthusiasts have considered sloe gin a lost ingredient Stateside, going so far as to concoct their own facsimiles from sour plum infusions or importing bottles from abroad.

But next month, all that will change: One of our favorite gin brands plans to launch their sloe-infused variety — previously available only in the UK and Australia — here in the US.

After what seems like an interminable wait, Plymouth Sloe Gin will make its North American debut in May, starting in bars and (one hopes quickly) moving into limited retail release. Through the good graces of a quick-thinking pal, I’ve found myself in possession of an exceedingly rare bottle a bit ahead of schedule. And so I did what any sane cocktail geek would do: I rounded up a crew of like-minded drinkers and got shaking.

To get a sense of what we were playing with, we tried a sip of the sloe gin on its own. The Plymouth press materials speak of “sweet cherry and raspberry notes that provide a complimentary mixture of figs, cloves, honey and stewed fruits”. But, truthfully, when tasted neat it’s hard to discern anything beyond a flavor wholly reminiscent of “the cough-syrup berry” (as one sharped-tongued wag remarked). We all agreed: This is a strong, tart flavor that wants to be mixed, not sipped.

Happily, there are a wealth of sloe gin recipes waiting in the world’s cocktail archives; CocktailDB alone boasts more than 90 of them, and every pre-Prohibition collection seems to sport a handful. Fans of bittersweet combinations — of which there were many in attendance at our sloe soirée — should head straight for the widely noted Blackthorn, a 2:1 sloe gin / sweet vermouth mixture stirred with a dash of orange bitters. It’s a surprisingly tasty pairing, especially when using a top-notch Italian vermouth.

But the unanimous favorite of the evening came straight out of the venerable Savoy Cocktail Book, a harmonious blend of “five ingredients… downright complicated for the Savoy” (quipped the guy who should know). With Jamaica rum and apricot brandy, the flavors are almost tiki-like. But the sour bite of the lime juice and the dark sweetness of the rum are a perfect foil to balance out the sloe’s medicinal qualities.

(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved** (c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**(c)2008 AEC **all rights reserved**

Millionaire Cocktail (No. 1)
juice of 1 lime
3/4 oz sloe gin
3/4 oz apricot brandy
3/4 oz Jamaican rum
1 dash grenadine

Shake well and strain into cocktail glass.

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Comment by Alex

Sloe gin has been in North American for quite some time – I don’t remember not being able to find it in Canada, ever.

Posted on 04.29.08 at 4:41AM

Comment by Anita

Really, you lucky Canucks — you get all the good English goodies!

Actually, though, I think you’ll find we’re both on the same page. In paragraph 2, I lamented that here in the States, all we have are crap “sloe gins” (I’m looking at you, Hiram Walker and DeKuyper). The reference to “North American debut” was specifically referencing the Plymouth offering, which their PR people tell us is available only in the UK and Oz at the moment.

If you’ve got the real stuff Up North, let me know… I have plenty of readers in Seattle who I suspect would make a run for the border for far less.

Posted on 04.29.08 at 6:49AM

Comment by Morgan

“Limited Retail Release”=Not coming to Texas because the TABC sucks! I will be in San Francisco in July though. Any ideas who might possibly carry Plymouth’s Sloe Gin at that point?

Love your pictures…

Posted on 04.29.08 at 7:02AM

Comment by Anita

I have it on good authority that John Walker & Sons will carry it, and I suspect that Blackwell’s will as well. Both are easy to get to from a visitor’s perspective; drop me a note if you need directions to either.

I think “limited” in this instance means “only a couple of stores per city” as opposed to “only a few cities at all”. Apparently they’re really worried about the shelf life — the natural fruit means that it oxidizes and should be used within 6 months — and only want it on the shelf at shops where (a) it will turn over quickly and (b) the level of staff knowledge is fairly high.

Posted on 04.29.08 at 7:20AM

Comment by Luke

We picked up a bottle of Sloe Gin when were in Scotland. The batch we had was from a small batch. It had a lot of depth of flavor, and you could sip it over ice. I will have to see if I can find the Plymouth version and see if it measures up. Plymouth Gin is mighty tasty.

Posted on 04.29.08 at 9:16AM

Comment by erik_flannestad

I have to admit I’m a bit puzzled by the “expiration date” idea.

A lot of folks who make Sloe Gin at home swear by stuff they have aged for years. Claiming it just gets better with time.

Of course many of the home Sloe Gin recipes I’ve seen are made with 100 Proof Gin, a pound of sloes, a good amount of sugar, and no added water. I suspect that stuff will be closer to 40-50% alcohol than the 26% ABV of the Plymouth Sloe Gin.

Posted on 04.29.08 at 10:34AM

Comment by Anita

Maybe it’s marketing hype?

There’s no mention here of starting proof of the infusing gin, but you’re right on the money as far as the rest of the home-made recipe details:

Posted on 04.29.08 at 10:38AM

Comment by erik_flannestad

PS. Spirits Geekery Ahead: Another interesting beverage involving Sloes is Paxtaran (also Pacharan). It is made in Spain and Portugal by infusing Anise flavored liquor with Sloes. A couple are imported into the US. Keep meaning to give it a try.

A third, and largely unavailable in the US, liqueur using Sloes is the French Prunelle. Sloe Liqueur on a neutral spirit or eau-de-vie base.

The French “Prunelle” should not be confused with the Italian liqueur called “Prunella”. Prunella is actually made from Prunes.


Posted on 04.29.08 at 1:11PM

Comment by Brandon

I read this post, closed my browser, put my jacket on, and slipped away from my desk immediately to skip over to John Walker and Sons and see if you and I might have the same special friend. Alas. Alas!

I will have to wait until May.

Posted on 04.30.08 at 12:52PM

Comment by sam

I had a bottle homemade by my ex’s step father in Wales after he died. I mean he made it before he died,, but obviously others had to drink it up thereafter. As I recall he had left the sloes in the bottle, it was sweet and syrupy and like cough mixture *in a good way*

Posted on 09.17.08 at 8:33PM

Comment by thela

I have a bottle of Sloe Gin saved from 1948 when it was so popular. It is sealed because just before we bought it I got dreadfully sick the last time I drank Sloe Gin Fizzes at age 19 and vowed to NEVER drink it again! I had no knowledge of alcoholic beverages at that age so gulped them down like soda pop. I remember telling my new husband to make the bed stop spinning. I am now nearly 86.

Posted on 08.28.13 at 4:04PM

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