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Sloe gin, that most traditional of British liqueurs, is in fine fettle at the moment. There are producers big and small putting out excellent bottles, including some intriguing variations on the drink we think we know. Now is a great time to reacquaint yourself with the fruit of the blackthorn.
Hernö Sloe Gin (30% ABV)
Made four-and-a-half hours north of Stockholm on the Swedish coast, Hernö pride themselves on using all organic ingredients and include some locally sourced botanicals such as meadowsweet and lingonberry in their London dry gin. No surprise that with such a base this sloe gin is perfumed on the nose, with delicate floral hints alongside the juniper before the sloe, plum and almond notes come in. Starting sweetly and finishing drier, this delightful number really wants a good nosing.
Sacred Organic Sloe Gin (28.8% ABV)
Set up in their north London home by Ian Hart and his partner Hilary Whitney in 2009, Sacred are a committedly intimate outfit. Utilising vacuum distillation in small volumes, Hart is able to extract the essence of the botanicals without heating them, a process he believes retains more flavour. Resting the resultant gin and ageing sloes in it for, a frankly ludicrous, 30 months before adding an extra boost of juniper pre-bottling results in an extraordinarily intense, spicy, sloe gin. The juniper makes itself known first with a pine-y edge, before the sloes whack in rich and jammy. A long finish sees you out with marzipan and notes of orange zest.
Beckett's Sloe Gin (29% ABV)
Hailing from the south-western tip of London, in Kingston upon Thames, Beckett's source their juniper from nearby Box Hill, where they support the National Trust and Forestry Commission’s repopulation project, trying to return the native conifer to the Surrey Hills. The other differentiator for the base dry gin used is fresh local mint. As for their sloe gin, marzipan leads into cherry and plum on the nose, while the juniper and botanicals keep everything in check. A clean note at the end brings the mint to mind without it overwhelming the warming fruit and almond. Buy from Beckett’s Gin (£33.60).
Aldi Oliver Cromwell Sloe Gin (26% ABV)
As ever, Aldi is punching above its price band with this graceful little liqueur. Hints of pepper and coriander join the juniper on the nose, restraining sweet almond and plum. It’s not sickly, but it is on the more sugared end of things, with a richer mouthfeel to go with it as plum jam, frangipane and cherry notes are balanced by a hint of fruit skin tannin.
Sipsmith Sloe Gin (29% ABV)
Sipsmith is godfather to the gin revival of the last decade, and the west London distillery’s sloe gin has a light, expansive nose that’s all almond up front. Soft stewed plum and cherry follow on, with just a hint of juniper and botanicals. A sip starts light and relatively dryly, with fruit matching the nose and balanced almond essence, with spicy notes as it comes towards a sweet finish and a suggestion of blackcurrant. A restrained and sippable example. Buy from Sipsmith (£25).
Foxdentons Sloe Gin (27% ABV)
Foxdenton claim a business heritage back to 1935, and are currently run by the descendants of the founding Major Radclyffe. With a definite affinity to the hunting-and-fishing end of sloe gin’s reputation, this is a rich fireside warmer or hipflask pull when out in the cold. Boozy, but not hot, on the nose, it wafts Battenberg at you, with lots of plum and glacé cherry fruit after the initial almond heft. Drunk, it leads with intense plum and plum skins, the fruit competing with marzipan. A rich, full mouth, especially given it is not one of the sweeter examples. Spicy pepper and coriander notes come in as well, as it finishes long.
Pickering’s Sloe Gin (30% ABV)
One of a few Edinburgh gin makers to pop up in the last five-10 years, Pickering’s sloe gin is a spicy entrant to this list. The nose is almond-led, but with an almost lebkuchen aroma mingling with the fruit. This continues when you take a sip, the almond, sloe and cherry butting up against a warm embrace redolent of clove and cardamom, even ginger. The cooling edge of juniper stops this running into sickly or Christmas-only territory.
Adnams Sloe Gin (26% ABV)
The venerable Suffolk brewery has opened up a distillery as part of its recent modernisation. Based on their Copper House dry gin, this is one of the less liqueur-like gins here. The nose has enough space to allow the juniper and citrus aromatics to interlace with notes of fresh almonds and plum. Flavours of baked plum, a touch of raspberry and a smidge of cinnamon again find themselves with the classic dry gin juniper. Interestingly, while it makes for a sweet G&T, mixing it opens up even more summer fruit on the palate, should you fancy a long drink.
Warner Edwards Harrington Sloe Gin (30% ABV)
Based on the family farm in Northamptonshire, Warner Edwards’ offering is fairly traditional, but big in every way. A slightly higher ABV of 30% gives a platform to rich marzipan and baked plum, with a juniper undercurrent. It continues intensely as you sip, with cherry and pepper also joining in. A full, rich mouthful, the sweetness is balanced by fruit skin tannins and a spicy finish.
Fifty Eight Gin Distilled Sloe Gin (43% ABV)
Something rather different here – a sloe gin, but one where the sloes have been redistilled after infusion. Consider this a gin, rather than a liqueur, and you’ll be fine. As such, it’s colourless, fairly dry and packs a punch at 43%, so unless you normally sip your gin neat, this is best explored as a long drink or in a cocktail, where the fruitiness can really shine. Similarly, That Boutique-y Gin Company’s Double-Sloe Gin (44% ABV, £34.95) is a blend of distilled and macerated sloe gins, lightly sweetened with liquorice root.
English Whisky Company Sloe Liqueur (26% ABV)
This is a bit of a curveball, as it’s made with single malt spirit (it cannot be called whisky by law until aged a minimum of three years), rather than gin. As you would expect, there’s a whisky-ish nose, a little hot, and comforting barley notes. Underneath, a touch of port richness rounds out soft, sweet plum and cherry. No gin, so no juniper or botanical notes, but the spirit adds body and complements the candied intensity while big, jammy plum and maraschino fruit roll forth with soft, sugared marzipan. There’s a slight spirit prickle on the finish, then a blackberry softness and hint of dry dark chocolate balancing the sugar. Slightly bonkers, but very pleasing.
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