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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 11/26/2010

Spirits: It's sloe time

By Jason Wilson

The Cloudy Sky cocktail. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

Americans generally think of sloe gin as a warm-weather spirit, especially in drinks like the sloe gin fizz. Of course, the problem is that sloe gin made in the United States is almost always artificially flavored (and should be avoided).

In the United Kingdom, where they make the real stuff, sloe gin is a fall drink. Most sloe gin in the UK is homemade, much of it in English grandmothers' kitchens, with actual sloe berries (the inedibly bitter fruit of the blackthorn, a relative of the plum) harvested from among the autumn hedgerows. Tart, viscous sloe gin is the kind of thing you'd keep in a hip flask during hunting season. I wrote about real sloe gin back in 2008, when Plymouth sloe gin was first imported into the United States.

At the time, Plymouth's brand rep, Simon Ford, said, "Sloe gin, to the English, is a little bit like limoncello is to the Italians. In the countryside, everyone makes their own. The problem of selling sloe gin in England is that someone will taste it and say, 'It's not as good as mine.' " In the two years since I wrote that column, several other sloe gins have become available. Plymouth is still the most widely available, but you can occasionally find Hayman's or Gordon's brands from England.

One delicious new sloe gin that I tasted last week hails from Germany, made by The Bitter Truth ($42) -- the same company who makes an excellent line of cocktail bitters. It's slightly higher proof than (56 proof to Plymouth's 52) and is blended with the flavorful, botanical-forward Blue Gin from Austria's premier distiller Hans Reisetbauer. I loved mixing this in my favorite sloe gin cocktails, including the Cloudy Sky (with ginger ale and lime juice) and the Meehoulong (a sort of sloe gin martini).

But perhap the most exciting development in this burgeoning spirits category is the appearance of a liqueur called Averell that's made from infusing gin with the Damson plum -- a close cousin of the sloe berry that grows domestically. Averell ($30) is made by DH Krahn gin, and sources its Damson plums from upstate New York. I enjoyed its mix of tangy, spicy fruit and the juniper bite of the gin. It's slightly less sweet than sloe gin, and may be more enjoyable on it's own -- though at 66 proof, it works well in cocktails, too. I tried Averell is the all-American Philly Sling cocktail (along with applejack, lemon juice, and bitters).

We may not have sloe berries here, but we can still give sloe gin a run for its money.

-- Jason Wilson

Wilson is the author of "Boozehound" (Ten Speed Press, 2011). Follow him on Twitter.

By Jason Wilson  | November 26, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Spirits  | Tags:  Jason Wilson, spirits  
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