Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Experiments with Sloe Gin, or, Things I Get Up To When Not Studying.

Speaking of things I like, possibly a bit too much, I was recently introduced to sloe gin. Straight sloe gin works in late-autumn London as an aperitif or digestif or omni-if, but if taken unadulterated in early-summer Melbourne is a bit too warm and sticky to be its lovely tart self, not unlike the rest of us. This is a shame, as it is better for you than regular gin, because 1. it has a lower alcohol content and 2. it has fruit in it, and therefore vitamins.

I asked the Frenchman selling it to me at the fancy wine store if it could be served on ice and received a slightly disdainful look and a raised eyebrow. He deigned to suggest that I try it with bitter lemon or with tonic.  A barman recently asked if I'd like it on the rocks, so I may have been a bit too sensitive about the Frenchman's lack of interest in my drinking dilemmas.

Thanks to some duty free liquor and some spare time, I ended up trying it with a few different things (not all in the one night, I'd like to add):

Sloe Gin and Bitter Lemon
This was the first combination I tried, is still my favourite (after sloe gin in autumnal London, and the Millionaire Cocktail in Edinburgh, that is), and is highly recommended for a warm day. The lemon undercuts the sweetness of the sloe a little but is balanced by the bitterness, so at the right proportions (somewhere around your regular G&T mix, possibly a little stronger) there is a great balance of sweet / sour / bitter. It's terribly refreshing, and since lemon is another fruit, even more delusions of healthiness.

Sloe Gin on Ice
I might need to give the Frenchman some credit here: sloe gin on ice is great at first but when the ice began melting it got too weak and watery for me. Not sure if this is due to the lower alcohol content, or perhaps that it has a less intense flavour than the digestifs I am more accustomed to drinking on ice. I've also only just thought of keeping the bottle in the fridge, which I might try with the next one.

Sloe Gin and Tonic
Not a huge fan of this: I prefer the emphasis in my G&T's to be, unsurprisingly, on the G. At regular proportions the sloe gin was overwhelmed by the tonic, so it ended up a pink, slightly fruity quinine drink. Even at my proportions, (G&t) the tonic was still the stronger element and the sloe flavour was decidedly washed out. Having said that, I prefer my tonics on the stronger side to compensate for lots of gin, so a lighter tonic might produce a different result.

Sloe Gin and Lemonade
I ran out of bitter lemon, but had lemonade left - much too sweet for me, but I might experiment on some friends who prefer their cocktails sweet and fruity. It did, however, inspire me to further fruit experiments.

Sloe Gin, Lemon Cordial and Tonic
Somewhere along the line I realised that Bitter Lemon was basically tonic + lemon, so I attempted constructing my own. This, although better than the straight tonic, was not entirely succesful, as the lemon cordial / tonic combination was simultaneously sweeter and bitterer than Bitter Lemon.

Sloe Gin, Cointreau and various mixers
What with all the back and forth to my liquor cabinet, and thinking about the sloe and lemon combination, I  realised that Cointreau is orange, and since sloe and lemon was working out well, how about sloe and orange? Cointreau has its own sweetness, though, and so these combinations tended to be too sweet for me. Bitter lemon worked best as a mixer with these two, (citrus = vitamin C, yes?) although I also tried tonic, soda and lemonade at various points. This is a much stronger combination, as I made it with a shot of each.

Unsurprisingly, this is about where my bottle of sloe gin ran out. However, during the slow recovery from post-trip work-trauma disorder, I found this photo

I only remember the name because I found the
bill as well. It was that kind of night.
and remembered the ridiculously lovely Millionaire Cocktail I'd had at the Bon Vivant in Edinburgh, a cocktail bar that could've been anywhere in the world, except that they deep fried all of their tapas just so we'd remember we were in Scotland. I'd ordered it because of the sloe gin, and was surprised I'd forgotten it - well, until I remembered how many cocktails we'd had after it. The Millionaire is sloe gin, apricot brandy, Jamaican rum, and lime juice (vitamin C again). Given a faint edge by the rum, this sweet, tangy combination works - and how.

In researching the Millionaire, I've discovered at least ninety cocktails using sloe gin.  I'd dreamed up some particularly evil combinations after being inspired by sloe gin and Cointreau*,  but, as usual, the internet has shown me what an amateur I am.  It can (apparently) be combined with every fruit liqueur known to man, not to mention everything from bourbon to pastis to the ultimate hangover partner, tequila.  I suspect my liquor cabinet is about to get surprisingly fruity.

* I'm still thinking of trying the liquor fruit salad: Sloe Gin, Limoncello, Cointreau, Peach Schnapps and Midori.

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