What is Sloe Gin? The Fruit-Soaked Spirit That Isn't Really Gin
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What Is Sloe Gin? The Fruit-Soaked Spirit That Isn’t Really Gin

Blackthorn, or sloe, growing on branches. These stunning fruit are a key ingredient in sloe gin. (Photo: Wild Your Garden with Joel Ashton/Youtube)

Whether you’re a gin connoisseur or just starting your gin journey, you may have crossed paths with this berry-colored spirit. With tasting notes such as plum, raisin, cherry, almond and pomegranate, sloe gin (pronounced like “slow”) makes for quite the pleasant addition to your next gin-inspired beverage.

Sloe gin derives its stunning color and jammy flavor from sloe — also known as blackthorn — a wild plum related to the rose family. The deep indigo fruit blossoms on spiny branches and finds its native home in Europe. By itself, sloe fruit is too tart to eat. This is where sugar steps in. Besides a fruity spirit, the astringent fruit is also used in pies and jams. Sloe gin is just as uniquely flavored as it is syrupy sweet, but is it gin? 

Liquor Vs. Liqueur

As you may know, for alcohol to earn its title as liquor, it must have a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume. Gin starts its life as neutral grain spirit which is then infused or distilled with an extensive range of botanicals: earthy coriander, spicy pepper and fruity citrus rind, to name a few. In addition to these botanicals, gin is made with juniper berries — a necessity for both taste and classification. Therefore, gin is a juniper liquor with a minimum 37.5% ABV.

Liqueurs, on the other hand, while still technically classified as spirits, tote lower percentages of alcohol. For a booze product to be classified as a liqueur, it will be on the 15% to 30% ABV scale and possess a substantial sugar content. Liqueurs typically have a thicker consistency because of this and, depending on who you ask, are delightfully easy to drink. Liqueurs can be flavored like coffee, fruit, cream, nuts and flowers. While the flavor list goes on, simply keep in mind that if your bottle of spirit is of a lower ABV and tastes very sweet, it is most likely a liqueur. You’ll also know based on which aisle you purchased it in. 

However, this is where the classification of sloe gin might perplex a buyer since it can be found in both the gin and liqueur sections of a liquor store. 

Where Does Sloe Gin Stand? 

Sloe gin is regularly classified as a gin-based liqueur. It utilizes gin as a base spirit and is steeped with sloe fruit and additional desired botanicals. Just like gin needs juniper, sloe gin needs sloe. The liqueur sits in the expected 15% to 30% range of ABV and should only be found in the gin aisle if it exceeds the liqueur’s alcohol content. An Australian distillery, Settlers Spirits, sells a sloe gin with a 43% ABV — making the spirit an outlier in the sloe gin catalog and should be considered a sloe-flavored gin. 

To properly determine whether you’re sipping on a sweet treat or boozy liquor, just look at your sloe gin’s ABV and try it in a fun cocktail or perfectly neat. Sloe gin is often enjoyed in the popularly associated Sloe Gin Fizz or on the rocks. To savor this spirit during the winter, drink sloe gin hot or as a feature in your future toddy.

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Candie Getgen is the managing editor for Gin Raiders. Before immersing herself in the world of spirits journalism, Candie has been many things: a bartender, a literary journal editor, an English teacher — and even a poet. Now, Candie shares her passion for gin with the world and hopes to help others fall in love with it, too (if they haven't already!). When not writing, Candie enjoys sipping an extra-dry martini while painting or relaxing by the pool with a campy mystery novel.