What is sloe gin?
"Sloe Gin" is, if you take it strictly speaking, not a real gin, but a liqueur produced on a gin basis, which is an exception within the EU spirits regulation. The reason for this is that the berries of the sloe bush are the main ingredient, not the berries of the juniper, as is the case with Dry or London Dry Gin, and therefore dominate the taste. Since the sloe berries, depending on their degree of ripeness and how long they have been macerated, give the sloe gin a colour ranging from light to deep red, it also stands out visually from the other types of gin. Sloe Gin is usually bottled as a fruity-sweet liqueur variant with an alcohol content of 20 to 30% by volume, only in a few exceptions as an independent, strong gin up to 47% by volume. The origin and history of Sloe Gin
The history of sloe gin goes back to the 17th century and has its origins in England. In fact, it began with the enactment of the English Parliament to privatise general public land. The new owners planted hedges of blackthorn bushes to mark out the individual plots. Although the berries of these blackthorn bushes were not digestible, the farmers did not want them to spoil.So they came up with the idea of macerating the blackthorn fruit in gin. Hence the name "Sloe Gin". This gin was drunk warm as a substitute for mulled wine, especially to protect against the cold in winter. However, the drink was not of the best quality, which meant that the "poor people's drink", as it was called, was not particularly popular with the population.It was not until the 19th century, when renowned distilleries discovered the sloe gin for themselves, that people learned to appreciate the sloe gin again. Even bartenders have been experimenting with this extraordinary gin ever since. The result was the cocktail Sloe Gin Fizz. After the Sloe Gin had gone downhill again in the 1960s, it has now become firmly established in many bars, whether private or commercial, all over the world.
The production of sloe gin
The basis for the production of sloe gin is a ready-baked dry or London dry gin. The ripe sloe berries, harvested and cleaned after the first frost, are added to this gin. But before the berries are put into the alcohol, they have to be made to break open. This is the only way to ensure that the juice of the fruit comes into contact with the alcohol. Usually the first frost is not enough and they have to be frozen for another day or two. Depending on the manufacturer, spices can be added. The maceration of this mixture, including storage, can last for weeks or months (three months is optimal). During this time, the cell walls of the berries are opened by the alcohol and the aromas are released to the berries. If the aroma is to be intensified, sloe juice can be added to the macerate.Of course sugar may also be added. However, in the end product it may only be a maximum of 100 grams per litre. When the sugar is added is up to the manufacturer. If the sugar is added to the macerate, the dry or London dry gin used loses some of its character and the sloe gin becomes quite sweet. But the sugar also prevents the alcohol from dissolving the fructose of the sloe fruit and absorbing the natural aromas. In addition, the individual batches could differ in sweetness, as the berries have small differences in taste depending on the season.Most distilleries therefore add the sugar to the liquid only after the macerate has been filtered to remove the berries. Only then is the gin bottled in the appropriate bottles. This has the advantage that, depending on the batch, the master distiller can adjust the differing sugar content to the final value that is desired. A renewed distillation of the macerate is not necessary.
But as with so many things, different countries, different customs apply to the production of sloe gin.The classic sloe gin is therefore produced by macerating sloe berries in finished dry or London dry gin. For the production of "Prunelle", as sloe gin is called in France, grape brandy is used. The sloe gin in Italy called "Bargnolino" is macerated with the addition of sloe berries, spices and sugar and is a slightly stronger drink with 40 to 45 % by volume. A degistive after the meal can be described as "Pacharán", an aniseed sloe liqueur from Spain.
Sloe Gin - aroma and taste
Since sloe berries are fruits with a bitter taste, which only lose this taste to a certain extent due to frost, the sloe gin only becomes really tasty and sweet when sugar is added after maceration. However, a slight bitter note, which is reminiscent of almond due to the prussic acid it contains, is retained even then. Even the basic aromas of the London Dry or Dry Gin used as the basis of sloe gin, i.e. a light juniper note, are not lost through the sloe fruit. Of course, the aromas vary depending on the selection of the base gin and the other botanicals, such as cinnamon, clove, star anise or nutmeg, which are macerated together with the berries of the sloe. But how can a sloe gin present itself in the nose, on the palate or in the finish?Sloe Gin - Nosing and Tasting
As soon as the bottle is opened, the wonderful, intense scents of sloe gin envelop the nose. Depending on the base gin and botanicals used, the sloe gin can present itself in the followingAs a very dominant fragrance of red berries, accompanied by a juniper note, lemon zests and spicy coriander, as well as powerful sloe notes with a harmonious peppery spiciness.
In addition, a sloe gin can present itself on the nose as a compact scent of blackcurrant, flanked by a spicy note of bitter almond, or as a fragrance reminiscent of harmonious berry, slightly acidic fruit notes paired with mossy and earthy facets.
But also aromas of juniper and marzipan, accompanied by cinnamon and cloves, and enigmatically with citrus notes and aromas reminiscent of freshly baked biscuit.
Even dense fruity scents of cherries, spicy figs and plums, flanked by notes of clove and cinnamon are perceived on the nose with some sloe gins.
On the palate the sloe gin can present itself as follows:
A piquant, fruity sloe gin also reveals red berries on the palate, accompanied by wild fruits with a clear accent on the aroma of blackthorn.
However, there are sloe gins available which present themselves on the palate as a very round body of fruity sweetness and a fine tart note.
Even almond impressions, paired with intense berry notes, accompanied by spices, such as vanilla, and oak wood, as well as bitter-sweet sloe gins, which score on the palate with a strong lavender note with light citrus aromas and herbal facets, can be recognized in some of the gins.
All in all, a sloe gin presents itself on the palate with dense, soft, fruity notes, a successful balance of spicy undertones, slightly tart and juicy sweet.The finish of a sloe gin can be very light, fruity and fresh, but it can also have a spicy touch of wormwood, even freshly cut grass. However, the finish of a sloe gin is long, sweet and fruity.
Sloe Gin - how to drink it?
Due to their low alcohol content and sweetness, sloe gins are the ideal summer drink, drunk straight, on the rocks, with tonic or as a cocktail. But even in the winter months, the red sloe gins, whose recipe includes cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves, are served as a wintery, sometimes warm cocktail. The sloe liqueur also harmonises very well with juniper berries, rosemary and coriander.Especially for aperitifs and cocktails, which should not be missing at any summer party, the Sloe Gin is the perfect base. To get a tasty squirt of Sloe Gin Fizz, all you need besides the gin is a little lemon juice and soda. For a Sloe Gin Negroni the gin is mixed with a bitter Campari. But also a Sloe Gin Tonic is very tasty. However, you should choose a tonic water that matches the dominant sloe flavours, for example Fever Tree Indian Tonic Water, Fentimans Tonic Water or Thomas Henry Tonic Water.
Since sloe gins generally harmonize very well with citrus aromas, this gin can be used to create many cocktails where oranges or lemons are on the list of ingredients. Just experiment and try it out. Well then, cheers!In short: Sloe Gin is a gin whose history began in England in the 17th century. At that time, a decree gave farmers state land which they fenced in with sloe hedges. The fruits, the sloe berries, were pickled in alcohol to prevent them from perishing. The Sloe (blackthorn) gin was born and thus gave it its name. Even today the sloe berries are still macerated in Dry or London Dry Gin, filtered and bottled after adding a maximum of 100 grams per litre of liquid. Sloe gin has an individual taste depending on which type of gin formed the basis for the maceration and which botanicals were used in addition to blackthorn berries. But all sloe gins are one thing, they are delicious and sweet, but with a slight bitter note. This red sloe gin can be found today in most of the renowned bars worldwide, but also in private bars in your own four walls. It has prevailed over its big brothers.