Listening to “Sip and Chew with Mike and Stu” on FM Talk 106.5, Sunday mornings at 8 a.m., a.k.a. “stupid early,” can be a stream-of-consciousness adventure, but you’ll nearly always learn some new gastronomic fact, or at least be reminded of a culinary lesson you’ve long forgotten.
Mike Bailey focuses on sipping, while Stu Donald, who you may know from Lucky Irish Bar and Grill, concentrates on chewing. For news and opinions about the local food and drink scene, you really cannot beat it.
A recent program had Mike and Stu veering off on a tangent about sloe gin, which I hadn’t thought about in years and is something you can make at home. You’re not actually making alcohol, but flavoring it, so you don’t have to worry about home-brewing (or distilling) laws. Best of all, you only need three ingredients and some sterile jars, rather than some complicated fermentation apparatus.
Most folks know sloe gin from the Sloe Gin Fizz, a cocktail popular in the 1950s resurrected during the disco era – when it was one of my favorites – but few folks know what sloe gin really is (including Mike and Stu on the Sunday in question, so don’t feed bad).
The short answer is that it’s a liqueur, made by steeping sloes with sugar in gin.
The sloe – also called the blackthorn – is a fruit indigenous to Europe and Asia, which may account for why it’s a bit obscure here. It’s similar to the damson plum, though, and you can use damsons and similar fruits to make flavored gins to enjoy as you would sloe gin.
Making sloe gin probably is most popular in the United Kingdom, where sloes are harvested in the fall. The fruit is quite bitter, even when ripe, but tastes better if picked after a frost. For that reason alone sloes may never be a cash crop in Mobile but, like I said, you can use other fruits in their place.
If you find yourself at an autumn market in Britain or northern Europe, though, look for the folks selling fruit preserves and you’ll probably find some sloe gin and other fruit-infused gins at the same market stalls.
So, let’s pretend we have sloes, damsons or something similar (cherries, blueberries or blackberries would work just fine). What’s next?
For sloes, you want to wash them and then prick the skins all over with a needle so the juice will seep out. You can also crack the skins by freezing the fruit overnight and then thawing it, which simulates the effect of frost. You’d want to prick damsons, cherries or blueberries, too; blackberries are delicate enough that you can skip this step. Myself, I stick with freezing because it’s easier.
Once you’ve prepared your fruit, you need to sterilize your bottles (or jars, if you prefer). Make sure you choose bottles with air-tight caps, to prevent contamination. After you sterilize the bottles, fill each half-way with fruit and then the rest of the way with gin. You want to use a good-quality gin, but not one with loads of its own aromatics because they’ll overwhelm your fruit infusion.
Then add your sugar – for a liter-sized bottle you’ll need between 6 and 8 ounces of regular white sugar – and shake it all up. Finally, lay the bottles on their sides in a dark place (no direct sunlight) and visit them every couple of days to turn them over – like a mother hen rotating her eggs – for the first couple of weeks.
After about three months of quiet repose, your sloe gin will be ready to strain into fresh bottles and tuck away until you’re ready to make cocktails. (I said the recipe was easy; I didn’t say it was quick. Some experts recommend leaving the fruit and gin to steep for as long as six months. Maybe that’s why some people think the liqueur is called “slow gin.”) Before straining, you’ll want to taste a small sample for sweetness. You want it to be pretty sweet, and that can be tricky if you’re using actual sloes.
If you think your infusion needs to be sweeter, you can make what’s called “simple syrup” by dissolving one cup of sugar in one cup of water in a saucepan over low heat. Once cooled, you can add it to your sloe gin, blueberry gin, blackberry gin or whatever, to suit your taste as you bottle it. Your infused gin should then keep for as long as you’d keep a bottle of regular, plain gin – years, in other words.
So now, how about making a Sloe Gin Fizz? I’m up for one or two, plus maybe digging my BeeGees vinyl out of the box in the closet … but that’s another story.
Anyway, recipes vary but the basic Sloe Gin Fizz cocktail is made as follows:
Combine 1 ounce sloe gin with 1 ounce regular gin, ½ ounce lemon juice and 1 teaspoon simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Add ice to fill half the shaker, shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass. Top with club soda. You may want to adjust the lemon juice and simple syrup amounts, though, if your sloe gin is already fairly sweet.
My cocktail Bible, “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” oddly doesn’t list a Sloe Gin Fizz recipe, although it does list a Blackthorn Cocktail (made with Angostura bitters, absinthe, Irish whisky and French vermouth), a Sloe Gin Cocktail (French vermouth, Italian vermouth and sloe gin), a Sloeberry Cocktail (Angostura bitters, orange bitters and sloe gin) and a Ruby Fizz (lemon juice, powdered sugar, egg white, Grenadine syrup, sloe gin and soda water) – the latter probably being closest to today’s Sloe Gin Fizz. Oh, and just for fun, it lists an Alabama Fizz (lemon juice, powdered sugar, gin, soda water and mint sprigs). Those should keep you busy for a while. Enjoy!