The Gin Palace - an illustration for Hard Times by Charles Dickens (Getty)

    Sloe gin: the Dickensian choice for Christmas

    9 December 2016

    Whether your opt for Bill Murray’s Scrooged or The Muppet Christmas Carol, most of us will agree that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is an enduring tale, never more pertinent today than it was when he penned it back in 1843.

    Dickens might have generated the creative juices for his cautionary fable while nipping at a Sloe gin, a traditional English seasonal sip that dates back to the 17th century. Dickens loved gin and drank in the gin palaces of London and the Garrick Club in the West End, indeed we believe it was in the Garrick he was inspired to write another of his famous novels – ordering a martini the bartender said ‘Olive or twist?’.

    Sloe gin is as enduring as the work of Dickens. During the gin craze of the mid 1700s, when gin was being made using everything from urine to sulphur acid, the drupes were used to disguise some horrors and so sloe gin became something of a poor man’s port. But by the mid-19th century the quality of gin improved and sloes were back in fashion, the gin proving particularly popular at Christmas.

    Predominantly categorised as a liqueur, sloes are picked from the blackthorn shrub and left to macerate in the gin with added sugar to reduce the bitterness. You can make your own, although the season has passed and the bushes are quite thorny, so we suggest you buy it from an expert distiller instead. And the best thing about it is you can easily fill a hipflask with sloe gin and keep it as a companion on a frosty Boxing Day walk.

    For something truly traditional try the Plymouth Sloe gin. Staying true to an 1883 recipe it doesn’t over dose on the sloe and balances a rich mouthfeel with a useful tart finish (The Whisky Exchange, £26.85).

    If you’re feeling a little less Ebenezer about the whole thing, splash out on something with a lot more heat in the Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin. It weighs in at 37.8% abv and sets you back (£41.45, The Whiskey Exchange). An Australian interpretation it is made using the Shiraz grapes that flourish in the distillery’s surrounding Yarra Valley, and the gin really shines through over the sweetness of the fruit.

    Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham are the Thinking Drinkers, award-winning writers and performers who will be hosting their comedy drinks tasting The Thinking Drinkers’ History of Alcohol at the Museum of Comedy in London from December 12-23. Each member of the audience sips five different drinks as the show explores alcohol’s influence on human history. Tickets and details here: