No sour cherries around here

HOSPITABLE IS the word that defines the bar business. Hospitality industry, we have all heard it. The word hospitable itself is easy enough to define: Friendly and welcoming to strangers or guests.

It was with this idea in mind as I approached the couple hovering two or three paces behind where people normally hover when they want to order drinks.

I got the immediate sense that they “weren’t from around here.” Not because of what they said or did, but rather from what they didn’t say or do. They were gracious and unassuming, not to say that many people around here are not, but these two were just more so than I have seen in quite a while.

“Can we sit at the bar while we wait for our table?”

“Of course you may,” I said. “That is what we are here for.”

Nothing disarms more completely than politeness.

“Can you make a fizz?” asked the fairer half of the couple.

“Sure. What kind would you like?” I said, noting mentally that Ramos Fizzes, Buck’s Fizzes and Gin Fizzes are all very different drinks.

In fact, Collins and French 75’s are just variants of the fizz. And Rickeys are just Collins with lime instead of lemon, but I digress.

“Gin, please,” she said. “Sloe gin, with egg whites.”

“Sloe gin?” I said, perhaps in a manner less than inviting. “And egg whites?”

Now, I haven’t made a sloe gin fizz in probably 20 years. Sloe gin, lemon juice and soda water, wow. Didn’t the Aerosmith song “Rag Doll” feature the lyrics: “Sloe gin fizzy/do it till you’re dizzy/give it all you got until you’re put out of your misery?” And yet, here was someone barely older than 20 ordering one. I smiled at the thought, thinking back to my last sloe gin beverage: 1980s, Day on the Green, a Boda Bag of sloe gin and Sprite, and a blonde tanned to perfection “…

“Mister,” said my polite charges. “Are you all right?”

Nothing makes one feel less cool and hip, than being called “mister.”

“Uh … ” I said. “I don’t think I even carry sloe gin anymore.”

Sloe gin is a reddish liqueur made from the sloe, a drupe which is similar to a plum, traditionally made by steeping the fruit in gin. Sloes, like cranberries or pomegranates (both noted cocktail ingredients), are not sweet. In fact, on their own, they are quite bitter — so bitter that liberal amounts of sugar must be added to make the liqueur palatable. The result is that sloe gins are usually quite sweet, and often quite low in alcohol.

In fact, most sloe gins produced these days no longer contains gin, but rather a neutral grain spirit. The U.S. government defines sloe gin as: “a cordial or liqueur, with the main characteristic flavor derived from sloe berries.” Ironic, of course, because the sloe is not a berry at all. But I guess even the feds can get things wrong.

“Oh,” said Miss Polite in a manner that indicated she now felt awkward.

“You know, I do have cherry liqueur and sloe gin tastes a lot like cherry.”

“I don’t want to be any trouble,” she said.

Again, obviously not from around here.

It is an amazing coincidence how when a person really doesn’t want to be any trouble, other people are more apt to go through quite a lot of trouble for them.

I mixed up the drink using Cherry Heering, gin, fresh lemon juice and the requested egg white — no soda since the fizz would come from the egg.

Two tries later and she smiled with red foam flecked lips.

“This is the best sloe gin fizz I’ve ever had,” she said happily.

This left me with these thoughts:

• In my 30 or so bartending books (some going back to the 1800s), no recipe for a sloe gin fizz calls for egg white.

• Plymouth gin makes a great version of sloe gin, using real gin.

• Umeshu is a liqueur made from unripe Chinese plums, also called Japanese apricots, which are neither plum nor apricot nor drupe, but it tastes like a drier sloe gin. Umeshu fizzes anyone?

• The Rolling Stones were right when they sang, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need.”