SLOE: the juice of a berry


In college days the sloe gin fizz was a favorite, especially among the women students.   It is a sweet, summery drink that isn’t too strong and comes in a tall glass that can last most of an evening.  Cheap date.  Most of us who purchased an s.g.f. had no idea how the word sloe was spelled or what it meant.  It didn’t matter.  And every bartender knew how to mix it, so it didn’t require a lot of knowledge to order it.

I have to admit that I haven’t heard someone order a sloe gin fizz or talk about it for years.  The term came up in a movie we were watching the other night and it occurred to me that I didn’t have the foggiest idea what the word sloe meant.

I did a brief period of time during college as a bartender in “mostly-beer” bar where I had to mix them occasionally, so I did come to know that the word wasn’t slow, even though it was a homonym.   But, beyond that, I was clueless about what the term sloe meant.  So, it’s time to explore it.

Sloe is another name for the blackthorn berryThe Free Online Dictionary identifies the sloe as “small sour dark purple fruit of especially the Allegheny plum bush.”   But it turns out that there are a number of bushes which produce such a berry, so sloe can apply to a variety of berries of this kind.   The common thread appears to be that they are blue/purple, somewhat tart, and prolific.

Sloe gin is made by infusing the sloe into an existing gin.   I have never encountered someone who orders sloe gin on the rocks or a sloe gin martini, although in this age of people mixing everything from coffee to watermelon juice in what they prefer to call a martini, it just might happen.  I happen to think that there is something unique about martinis that require simple gin, dry vermouth, ice to cool and an onion to garnish.  It’s called a gibson and it would be ruined by some additive which gave it color or a variant taste.

But, having raised this question of the nature of sloe gin, I’m tempted to at least try it once.   I’m already convinced I won’t like it, but it would be unprofessional of me to not at least try it.

As to a sloe gin fizz, it is a simple recipe.

1 oz sloe gin
1 oz gin
3/4 oz fresh lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup
3 – 4 oz soda water

Shake the gin, lemon juice and simple syrup with ice and strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Top with soda, garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry, and serve.*

It’s interesting that the recipe calls for both sloe gin and gin, given that the alcohol content of the sloe gin can be anywhere from 15 to 30%.   That’s plenty for a “kick” to it.   And I would dispute the call for a highball glass, which is short and squat.  I used to serve sloe gin fizzes in a tall glass, with the ice intact.  But different mixologists have differing styles.
Well, that pretty much covers everything I know or want to know about the word sloe.  I think the whole conversation was inspired by the warm weather, sitting on a deck  with old friends in Kittery Point, Maine, next to the ocean,  with a gin and tonic in my hand, a great lobster roll in front of me, and good company.    Some different from the darkened bars of college years a hundred years ago.
Photo Credit: Martin Olsson
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