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A sloe gin cocktail for summertime

April 30, 2016

Walk down memory lane with me and come for a brisk foraging walk in the English countryside. The mention of sloe gin takes me back to narrow paths, next to fields, bordered by hedgerows. Feet clad in sturdy walking boots, face muffled under a woolly scarf, fingers kept from going numb by gloves. The cold makes my face tingle, the fading sun pierces the black silhouettes of spindly, bare branches against a pale winter sky. I inhale the scent of moss, earthiness and wood smoke and try to avoid the spurs of the blackthorn tree as I pilfer the dusky purple sloes from its branches. It’s fiddly work but before long we’ve filled a few bags generously and stride back home to turn them into sloe gin. Each sloe must be pricked with a pin before slotting into an empty gin bottle; sugar and gin are added and left to steep for a couple of months before straining. We warm ourselves up with little nips of a previous year’s vintage sloe gin in front of a roaring log fire.

But hang on a minute, sloe gin on the beach? Temperatures have just rocketed here in Dubai and our beautiful balmy winter has come to an end abruptly. I can hear children playing in the pool next door and for many there is a last dash to the beach before the humidity steams in too.  While drinking alcohol in a public place (e.g. on the open beach) is not allowed in Dubai, a sneaky cocktail by the pool or in the garden at the end of a scorching hot day is a lovely way to cool down. By the end of next month it’ll be too hot to sit outside at night so I’m raising a toast to sitting outside for a little while longer.

This is another creation from Denzel Heath of the MMI Bar Academy. Sloe gin was the last thing I thought he’d include when I asked him for an al fresco cocktail. He explained that this is a twist on the classic Singapore Sling, one of the original traveler ‘holiday’ drinks and made with cherry Heering. He decided to use sloe gin to better compliment the gin, but also because it has a deeper complexity than Heering.

I also asked him what the Fernet Branca does to the taste and is there an alternative that can be used? Denzel says that Cynar, Montenegro, Ramazotti, Averna or any other Italian Amaro can be used. The Amaro leads to more depth; the bitter herbaceousness allows for the palate to differentiate between all of the different flavour elements in the drink. Remove the Amaro and it is still good, but you will struggle to find flavour levels. He compares it to cooking steak with seasoning and without.

(Click on a photo to enlarge and view gallery.)

Plymouth Navy Strength gin is used in this cocktail. If you ever visit Plymouth, make sure you book a distillery tour way in advance as it’s very popular. It’s the oldest working distillery in England and the building dates back to the early 1400s. The Pilgrim fathers spent their last night there before they set off for a new life across the Atlantic in 1620. KP and I did the gin connoisseur’s tour which includes a tutored tasting as well as the full history and tour of the building.

Plymouth gin’s history is tied in with sea-faring vessels and the British Navy (the Blackfriars distillery is a stone’s throw from the port). For centuries sailors were paid partly in alcohol rations, usually rum but the officers drank gin. Navy strength is 57% abv (compared to the original at 41.2%) and in the 1800s was stored down in the ship’s hold in barrels along the gunpowder. If the gunpowder would ignite and burn brightly after having gin spilled onto it was ‘proofed’, i.e. high strength and not watered down. Overproof spirits are in vogue with bartenders and mixologists right now as they have more intense flavours and richness.

I appreciate that some of you are experiencing temperatures in April which are more like those in November sloe season, but mix yourself one of these and imagine you are sitting out on the patio in the warmth with me.

A Sloe Sling for summertime - recipe on

Sloe Sling

  • Servings: 1
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • A shaker
  • A strainer
  • Long glass


  • Cubed ice
  • 15ml Plymouth Navy Strength
  • 45ml Plymouth Sloe Gin
  • 10ml Fernet Branca
  • 15ml honey syrup*
  • 30ml fresh grapefruit juice
  • 15ml fresh pineapple juice
  • 15ml fresh lemon juice
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
  • Garnish: dehydrated grapefruit slices, mint

How to mix

Put all ingredients inside a cocktail shaker with a lot of cubed ice. Shake really hard for at least 12 seconds. Strain off the ice and serve in a glass over new ice.

*Honey syrup

Make sugar-water by dissolving 1 part water and 1 part white sugar. Dissolve 1 part honey in 1 part sugar-water. Denzel recommends acacia honey.

My drink looks a lot lighter than Denzels, I think it’s due to the amount of ice and the light.

A couple of friends are joining us on the patio.  Helen will be sipping her elderflower and coconut gin martini and Jacqeline stirring up a ruby red gin cocktail.  Found this beautiful blackberry French 75 over on Heather Christo which looks divine too.

Have you ever made sloe gin or any other kind of homemade drink?

  1. April 30, 2016 6:54 pm

    I love sloe gin so much!

  2. Fuss Free Helen permalink
    April 30, 2016 10:16 pm

    This sounds amazing Sally – I think that sloe gin is such a good ingredient for summer cocktails. How I would love to join you on your patio for a glass and a good catch up.

    • May 2, 2016 9:44 pm

      We have A LOT of catching up to do Helen 🙂

  3. April 30, 2016 11:57 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous pictures! I haven’t had sloe gin is years!

    • May 2, 2016 9:43 pm

      Thanks Beth. Neither had I. To be rectified often.

  4. May 1, 2016 12:07 am

    Evenings by the pool or in the garden call for a tall cold drink. This is such a pretty drink … without looking too girly!

    • May 2, 2016 9:43 pm

      Not keen on girly drinks myself either. Thanks for stopping by to comment Noel.

  5. andreamynard permalink
    May 1, 2016 1:03 am

    Love the sloe foraging description Sally, and always excited to hear of cocktail ideas for my foraged tipples. The idea of drinking outside on a warm evening is very appealing too!

    • May 2, 2016 9:42 pm

      I’ll bet your house is full of foraged bounty Andrea. Wistful for countryside walks right now.

  6. May 1, 2016 1:55 am

    This sounds like the perfect drink to sip outside while watching the birds and the lizards! Beautiful!

    • May 2, 2016 9:42 pm

      How did you know I have lizards in my garden?! Ha ha – geckos are a way of life out here… and I love them… as they scuttle away quickly.

  7. May 1, 2016 2:41 pm

    I haven’t yet had the pleasure of trying sloe gin. I must remedy this! Your drink sounds AMAZING!

    • May 2, 2016 9:41 pm

      Denzel is a very clever cocktail maker but he manages to show me something that I can make at home too.

  8. May 1, 2016 8:37 pm

    A lovely, different twist on Sloe gin. Like you we enjoyed finding and picking the slows as autumn set in but when we moved we couldn’t locate any blackthorn trees so had to settle for wild damson instead. It’s not quite the same but just as delicious.
    I love reading your blog because it not only reminds me of life in Dubai, but informs me about the changes. I was interested to read that you can’t drink alcohol in a public place, ie the public beach. All the beaches were open to the public and largely deserted so perhaps the fact that beach BBQ’s always included at least beer, was maybe because they weren’t policed.

    • May 2, 2016 9:40 pm

      Probably – life is very regulated here now… which is a good thing in a city of this size. But it is a hugely different place from the one you knew. I love foraging for anything in the English countryside.

  9. recipesfromapantry permalink
    May 2, 2016 12:39 pm

    I could just go out, pick loads of sloes and make sloe gin. But I tend to be sooo lazy about things like that so I miss it every single year. I really ought to make some though so I can whip up this recipe over the summer.

    • May 2, 2016 9:39 pm

      That’s why the Plymouth sloe gin (or any of the many new intriguing ones on the market) is so handy 🙂 Our friends who we made this with have vintages going back for decades.

  10. May 2, 2016 8:25 pm

    I’m pinning this for the summer… I love having a new cocktail recipe up my sleeve for BBQ season 🙂

    • May 2, 2016 9:38 pm

      Thanks Katie, Raising a toast to you from afar.

  11. May 3, 2016 2:18 am

    Not quite warm enough in the UK yet but I have a bottle of home made sloe gin in the cupboard ready and waiting!

  12. Angela permalink
    May 3, 2016 11:07 am

    Love the taste of gin cocktails. Went to a new Gin Distillery in Durban SA on Friday, they have amazing blends and make their own Tonic

  13. May 7, 2016 11:32 am

    Next time you come to Edinburgh, would you organise my drinks cabinet? As in I will give you my credit card and you select what I “need”? Thank you in advance. 🙂


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