Food & Drink

It seems we've been playing fast and loose with sloe gin

One liquor can inspire different nostalgia for different people. Take sloe gin.

For Simon Ford, brand “ambassador” for newly imported Plymouth Sloe Gin. The tart ruby-colored spirit reminds him of walking through the English countryside, picking sloe berries with his grandmother.

For me, sloe gin evokes a youthful summer night at a watering hole on the Jersey Shore that served pitchers of sloe gin fizzes, leading to a make-out session with a hair-sprayed Jersey girl in a Camaro in the Wawa parking lot.

Ah, sloe gin: like Proust's madeleine for a once-mulleted boy like me. Of course, Ford dismisses my sloe gin of memory as a poor imitation of the traditional English version. “It was full of artificial flavoring and artificial coloring,” he says.

Most of us don't know real sloe gin, only the syrupy facsimile liqueur. Real sloe gin is made with sloe berries – the sour, inedible fruit of the blackthorn, a relative of the plum – that are macerated for several months in gin.

Both Plymouth and Gordon's make commercial sloe gin, but in England, it is made mostly in family kitchens in autumn and carried in flasks during hunting season.

About 10 years ago, Plymouth dusted off its 1883 recipe and started producing small batches. Sloe berries are in short supply, and it takes more than two pounds of them to make one bottle. Plymouth finally managed to produce enough to export a limited amount to the United States, beginning this summer.

Good sloe gin has a unique crisp and tangy taste, a balance of sweet and bitter that's not cloying.

My favorite is the basic sloe gin fizz. Keep it simple: sloe gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda. A sip takes me back to the Jersey Shore – even though it's not the gin I'm remembering.