January 13, 2011

So juicy: Edwardian drama and sloe gin

So, I am hooked on the miniseries Downton Abbey. A wealthy earl and his American wife fret over the inheritance of the estate, a prickly dowager (played by the excellent Maggie Smith) schemes to challenge legal documents and marry off her grand-daughter to a commoner, modern women question patriarchy, the footman engages in scandalous dalliances with the eldest daughter's visiting suitors, and love and treachery ensue among the help. Meanwhile, the manor is being wired for electricity. Oh, and social change threatens to overthrow their entire way of life. I'm not exactly a raging Anglophile but Downton Abbey hits that sweet spot of totally enjoyable, well-done fluff.

And for someone who is obsessed with food, the scenes set in the kitchen and at the dining table are amazing. Really! As the Crawley household finds out about the Titanic disaster, you see the help eating porridge while the cook sends a silver platter of steaming kedgeree to the Lord's breakfast table. After a funeral, the footmen serve gorgeous upright molds of bright green asparagus, meat pie, apple tart, sumptuous whole chickens served with gravy, and cakes in shades of pink, yellow, white and red. Before dinner, the head butler carefully and slowly strains a bottle of old Port into a crystal decanter. The middle-class heir to Downton Abbey pours his own tea while his butler looks on helplessly and the dowager countess frowns disapprovingly. I mean. It could not be better.

Are you thinking about how you can make your life more Downton Abbey-esque? Me too. To this end, I've been mixing drinks with my favorite English spirit in our liquor cabinet: English sloe gin. In case you aren't familiar with sloe gin, it is gin infused with the astringent, bitter berries of a blackthorn bush. In England, sloe gin was traditionally made at home by steeping sloe berries, gin, spices, and sugar in wide-necked jars; they drank it on cold nights or carried it in flasks to take on hunts. Meanwhile, American liquor makers co-opted the name and slapped it on an artificial, syrupy sweet alcohol that bartenders used to make embarrassing Jersey Shore-style drinks like Alabama Slammers and Sloe Screwdrivers. Until very recently, true sloe gin wasn't available in the U.S., but luckily for us Plymouth makes a good one now.

On its own, Plymouth sloe gin tastes of sour cherry and cranberry with a very subtle sweetness. It can be drunk straight, but my favorite way involves shaking it with lemon juice, angostura bitters and ice. It is tart, bright stuff and it slips down embarrassingly easily. Fortunately for lightweights like myself, sloe gin is more of a refresher than a vehicle for alcohol; it has a fairly low alcohol content, in other words (52 proof). But it is delicious stuff, nice enough that the single malt drinker in my life likes it too. In case you are curious, though, the odds of Mark sitting through 8 hours of an Edwardian drama are slim to none.

Sloe gin fizz
via Jason Wilson's entertaining book Boozehound: On the trail of the Rare, the Obscure and the Overrated in Spirits

This is a summer drink and it is uncouth of me to drink this in the dead of January. I don't care; I love fizzy bitter drinks, and the cold weather makes no difference to me. If you care, straight sloe gin is a classic winter warmer. Alternately, you could mix up a Blackthorn or a Meehoulong.

To make the simple syrup called for in the recipe, heat equal amounts of granulated sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat (say, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar). When the sugar has dissolved, it is ready. Store in a tightly covered jar in the refrigerator for a month or so.

2 ounces true sloe gin, such as Plymouth or the Bitter Truth
1 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon simple syrup
sparkling water
orange slice, for garnish

Fill a shaker with ice, and add the sloe gin, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake well, then strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Top with sparkling water and garnish with the orange slice.

Variation: For a less sweet drink, substitute 2 dashes of Angostura bitters for the simple syrup.


Lauren said...

I haven't seen that miniseries around, but it looks like something I'd really like. I'll have to Netflix it later. I like your descriptions. :)

Laura said...

Thank you thank you for telling me about Downton Abbey! It looks fantabulous. I know where I'll be on Sunday night. I can't wait.

Also, sloe gin sounds yummy. I'll have to check the liquor store for bottle. Cost?

B.A. said...

Greetings from Weymouth! I am one of those you mention who makes her own sloe gin. And I agree, it is wonderful stuff. Traditionally each sloe must be pricked with a thorn from the blackthorn bush on which it grew.

If you enjoyed Downton Abbey, you must also watch Upstairs Downstairs if you haven't already.

Kim said...

Lauren - I think you'll like it too. You can watch the first episode online, by the way.

Laura - 750 mL bottle of was around $30, but California generally prices alcohol more competitively than other states. It may be more expensive where you live.

B.A. - Thanks for passing along the Upstairs Downstairs recommendation and sharing the traditional way to prick sloe berries. Your homemade sloe gin sounds like such a treat!

Anonymous said...

Love Downton Abbey. Does anyone know what those delicious looking square cakes were? The ones that were served just before the hunt?