Friday, June 06, 2014

Cocktail of the Week: The Sloe Gin Fizz

How bad had sloe gin’s reputation gotten? Bartenders stopped using it as the principal ingredient in the drink named after it.

Which was unfortunate, because in addition to that evocative handle – one of my favorites in the canon – the sloe gin fizz has some history behind it. How do I know? Because it’s a Mad Men cocktail. According to Dinah Sanders’ recent book The Art of the Shim: Low-Alcohol Cocktails to Keep You Level, the recipe first appeared in Sunset magazine in 1898. It was once known as a morning drink, which didn’t necessarily mean it was something to order along with your eggs Benedict whenever Aunt Martha visited (although it would certainly suit that occasion). It was fabled far and wide in workingman’s saloons as a hangover remedy.

It would have tasted a damn sight better than the decades’ worth of sloe gin fizzes poured during Spring Breaks from South Padre to Myrtle Beach. The sloe gin of 1898 was not the sloe gin of more recent vintage. As recounted in the epic post about the Millionaire (read it, it’s funny), sloe berries are small, plum-like fruits with a taste that is aggressively, almost brutally tart. Most contemporary sloe gins were over-sweetened to compensate, rendering the liqueur suitable only for the most cloying of cocktails. Recipes for the sloe gin fizz took this sad state of affairs into account, recommending that the drink contain equal parts sloe and traditional gin. Should you somehow acquire authentic sloe gin, you’re advised, by all means use it on its own. But good luck making that happen.

Luck is no longer required. (OK, maybe a little is. Read the Millionaire post.) Plymouth has made a sloe gin commercially available that is true to the spirit’s spirit. Long-forgotten libations like the Charlie Chaplin are once again viable. What does it do for its namesake cocktail?

I prepared the drink both ways, because we here at Keenan Labs are nothing if not thorough. The solo sloe gin version was, as the title of Ms. Sanders’ book indicates, lower in proof. The berries’ distinctive taste was more pronounced, the drink itself light, crisp, and refreshing.

For the more modern version, I paired Plymouth Sloe Gin with the company’s signature gin. Smooth, drier than most London gins and lighter on botanicals, it’s fantastic in martinis and Gibsons. To no one’s surprise, I preferred this version, and not (just) because it’s boozier. The sloe berries still make their presence felt, but the addition of gin gives the drink a stronger foundation. Both have ample charms. Either will banish poorly made poolside sloe gin fizzes from memory.

One last note: the few sloe gin fizz recipes that still call for egg white note that this ingredient is optional. I opted out. I’ve made enough egg white drinks lately, and this one works better as a summer cooler without it. Technically, including the egg white makes it a silver sloe gin fizz. Use this tidbit to impress your bartender!

The Sloe Gin Fizz

1 oz. Plymouth sloe gin
1 oz. gin
¾ oz. lemon juice
¼ oz. simple syrup
several ozs. club soda

Combine the first four ingredients. Shake. Strain into a chilled Collins glass. Top with club soda. For a more traditional version, omit the gin and use 2 oz. Plymouth sloe gin.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at