Here's What Sloe Gin Really Is

Those who truly live in the fast lane drink sloe gin. If you've heard of sloe gin before, you likely keep company with liquor connoisseurs or happened to read about it in an article because it's not terribly common in the U.S. The "sloe" in sloe gin refers not to the speed with which you'll want to savor it, but rather the vital ingredient.

According to Spirit Works Distillery, sloe is the plant prunus spinosa and it produces small, dark-colored berries called sloe berries or blackthorn plums. These berries are harsh and sour and are typically enjoyed only when they've been adulterated by gin and sugar (via Food & Wine). The berries ripen in the fall, so they are mostly found in winter holiday drinks, but recently found their way into warm-weather cocktails as well. The berries were such an afterthought, according to Food & Wine, that the plants were used as hedges to divide properties in 18th century Britain.

When life gives you sloe berries

Sloe plants grow widely across northern Europe and can even be troublesome given how densely they grow in the U.K., says Spirit Works Distillery. The story goes that sometime in the 1700s, the British tired of not having a use for these ubiquitous berries and attempted to mellow the harsh flavors of the sloe berry with gin and sugar. The result was a dark-colored and fruity liqueur.

Ranging in color from a deep brownish-red to a lighter pink, sloe gin is very floral and some distilleries even add extra ingredients to further enhance the different notes, per Spirit Works Distillery. According to Food & Wine, the sloe gin fizz is a popular drink that pairs the liqueur with soda water, lemon juice, a bit of sugar, and an optional egg white. Spirit Works Distillery also says sloe gin is known to be a suitable substitute for vermouth in classic drinks like negronis and Manhattans.