A strange relic of the post-Prohibition cocktail era, the Pink Gin is a cocktail rarely found on bar menus these days. Adapted from the 1939 classic cocktail book “The Gentleman’s Companion” by Charles H. Baker, the original cocktail nods to the drink’s Navy roots when medicinal bitters were, reportedly, added to gin to encourage sailors to take them. It’s about as simple as one can get while still considering something a cocktail—two ingredients, gin and Angostura bitters, are stirred over ice and served in a chilled glass.
While it’s easy, and accurate, to say that the simplicity of the cocktail belies its complexity and depth, it’s much harder to claim the drink as excessively palatable. Without the balance of some kind of sweetener, like simple syrup or vermouth, the Pink Gin is aggressively bracing, necessarily served as ice cold as possible and more diluted than your average Martini in order to make it potable. The four dashes of bitters do add a pleasant hue to the cocktail (though arguably more orange than pink), but they threaten to overwhelm the already herbal liquor with their baking spice botanicals.
One possible solution to the issue of an overly bitter drink is to use an old tom gin rather than a London dry style. This historic gin style disappeared for a number of decades, but today is back on bar shelves thanks to efforts from historians like David Wondrich and distillers like Tad Seestedt of Ransom Spirits in Oregon. The aged gin is sweeter thanks to its time in barrels, and its botanicals are often less-juniper forward, with warmer, richer spices that pair well with Angostura bitters. You can even considering adding a dash of simple syrup, though at that point you’re treading close to it being a twist on an Old Tom Old Fashioned.
Recipes differ slightly in how to build the Pink Gin, despite its limited ingredients. Though some have the bartender stir the bitters in the mixing glass with the gin, others use them as a rinse for the cocktail glass first. In his book, Baker suggested the excess bitters from the rinse were to “go back in the bottle, on the floor or out the porthole or window, depending upon who, where and what we are.”
In the end, it’s a peculiar, singular drink, and one that every gin-lover should try at least once, if only to say they have.
- 2 ounces London dry or old tom gin
- 4 dashes Angostura bitters
- Garnish: lime twist
Dash the bitters into a chilled coupe glass. Gently tip the glass and rotate it to coat the inside of the glass. Pour out the excess bitters.
Stir the gin in a mixing glass with ice, then strain into the prepared glass.
Garnish with a lime twist.