Sloe and steady

Photograph: Roxana Marroquin

Scan the back shelves of old New York dives and you might spot a dusty bottle of something called sloe gin. The liqueur, given its tart, plummy flavor and vibrant ruby hue by an infusion of sloe berries (a wild fruit native to England), was a popular cocktail component in the early 20th century. But in recent decades, the only varieties found on the U.S. market were wretched, no-name swills full of artificial flavor and coloring. Playing starring roles in fratboy drinks (like the Alabama Slammer and the Sloe Comfortable Screw) only hastened sloe gin’s exit from respectable cocktail lists. But earlier this summer, the Plymouth distillery—which previously doled out a benchmark variety of the ancient spirit in the U.K. and Australia only—began shipping the nectar to the U.S. Plymouth has released a mere 1,000 cases for 2008, and due to high demand at bars and restaurants, they are fast disappearing from liquor store shelves. Your best chance at a sip may be the city’s tonier bars. Clover Club (210 Smith St between Baltic and Butler Sts, Cobble Hill, Brooklyn; 718-855-7939) is boasting a sloe-gin-and-rum-based punch; and Death & Company (433 E 6th St between First Ave and Ave A, 212-388-0882) has a few sloe-gin cocktails on the menu, including the dangerously drinkable, blackberry-topped Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Just don’t order a Panty Dropper, or you’ll be shown the door.