Drink of the Week: The Blackthorn (circa 1900)


If pumpkin-spice desert cocktails aren’t quite your Thanksgiving booze jam, this week’s drink could well be for you.

Today’s Blackthorn is an entirely different creature than the Blackthorn I explored four years back. Since that drink came from 1930’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, you might assume that this other Blackthorn is some kind of gauche cocktail Johnny-come-lately, but you’d be wrong. Though revived earlier this decade, this Blackthorn dates back to at least 1900 and it comes by its name honestly. Sloe gin is a featured player and it turns out that sloe berries come from the blackthorn plant. Moreover, its base spirit is Plymouth Gin, a style of gin and also, now, a brand that come from namesake of the place where all those people in the funny hats had a mostly-fictional dinner with Native Americans. Regardless, I think is a drink that tastes as much like Thanksgiving as any pumpkin-spice monstrosity.

This Blackthorn boasts a fruity complexity and warmth that can put you in the mood to be forgiving and grateful. And  if you’re comfortable enough to be reading this, you have plenty to be grateful for.

The Blackthorn (circa 1900)

1 1/2 ounces Plymouth Gin
3/4 sloe gin
3/4 sweet vermouth
1-2 dashes orange bitters
1 orange twist (highly desirable garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass. Stir vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add the orange twist. Sip and sip some more.


I wish I could tell you that this drink works as well with a decent London dry style gin, since that would be easier and likely less expensive, but you’re going to have to stick with Plymouth if you really want something good. The slightly sweeter, more herbacious Plymouth style complements the richer flavor of the sloeberry/gin liqueur; it allows the the warmer flavors of a the liqueur and decent sweet vermouth to hit the left and right side of the tongue in a friendly way.

Speaking of vermouth, while many suggest Carpano Antica for this, I love the result with the much less expensive Noilly Pratt. The more premium priced Cocchi Vermouth di Torino has a more complex and bitter taste but, honestly, I have yet to find a drink yet that it has improved. As for sloe gins, I have to admit that I’m prejudiced in favor of Plymouth’s excellent product, and I really thought the version I made with that was the best. However, I will give props to Spirit Works’s sloe brew, which produced a drink that was almost as inviting.

And now we come to the part of the blog post where I wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Be grateful; we’re very lucky to be here. On the other hand, let’s not be afraid to acknowledge that our past and present reality contains a very real dark underbelly. Have a good one, but keep your eyes peeled.


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