Gin Variations Four: The Pink Gin (and Orange Buffalo, Xocolatl Rum)

February 12, 2012

Barring the ‘wave the Vermouth around’ style of ultra-dry Martini, the Pink Gin is the straightest way to drink gin as a ‘mixed’ drink. Gin and a few drops of bitters. That’s it. As it’s traditionally made with Plymouth Gin, which I recently acquired, and also as I’ve long thought it sounded cool, I gave it a try.

The Pink Gin was invented in the British Navy in the mid-19th century. Angostura Bitters had been found to be good for seasickness and to make it more palatable officers added gin to it (they were pretty hard those days). This was similar to the adding of gin to tonic water for the medicinal properties of the quinine. In fact, the gentian in Angostura Bitters was something of a forerunner to quinine. The Navy’s gin of choice was Plymouth, which is sweeter than modern London Dry Gin.

The variations of Pink Gin are minor. You can have more or less bitters, and you can drink it warm (traditional) or cold with ice in or out. Some use an old fashioned glass, but I thought a coupe glass seemed better. Some leave the bitters in, some dash it out, having it just coat the glass. I found that with just six drops, even a rather snappy discard leaves most of it in. I compromised on the ice issue, going for cooling the gin in the freezer for a couple of hours first, but skipping the ice. I tried it warm too, but preferred the cold version.

Pink Gin

2 oz Plymouth Gin

6 drops Angostura Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold gin.

It’s an incredibly simple drink, but very good. Interestingly, the colour was more orange than pink, but the bitters added a definite tinge to the gin. It’s a very drinkable form of almost-straight gin. I’m really not one for enjoying straight spirits, but I had no problems with this whatsoever.

Then, having just purchased five different kinds of bitters in the Bitter Truth Travel Pack, I wondered what other drinks might be made this way. It was a light-hearted thought, but I gave it a whirl anyway, and the results weren’t half bad.

First up was vodka. Yes, vodka. It’s not very hip of me, as Vodka is the demon of the new craft cocktail movement. My favourite spirits writer, Jason Wilson rants against the over 500 different kinds of flavoured vodka on the market (including pink lemonade vodka, sweet tea vodka, cola vodka, root beer vodka, sake vodka, protein powder vodka, Dutch caramel vodka, espresso vodka, double espresso vodka, triple espresso vodka, mojito mint vodka and bubble gum vodka) and apparently the ultra-hip craft cocktail bars in the US don’t even serve it. Not even the plain kind.

But I heard an argument that gin is just juniper flavoured vodka anyway, really. It has to contain juniper to be called gin (legally, in the US). If you left it out, it would be flavoured vodka. Conversely, if you added juniper to your vodka flavourings, it would become gin. Or am I missing something? So the anti-vodka thing seems a bit overdone to me. I guess the cocktail geeks were a cause without something to rebel against, and vodka became it. (And vodka is too popular to be cool).

That said, I’ve never really been a vodka fan. I even got to try a couple of very expensive, supposedly ultra-premium brands at a gourmet supermarket. They didn’t taste as good as plain old Stoli. But there is one vodka I like, and its light botanical flavourings remind me a little of gin, which has been my round-about way of saying that I decided to try a Pink Gin variation with Żubrówka. This Polish vodka is flavoured with bison grass, and every bottle contains a blade. I like it with lime and soda and a lot of crushed ice in summer.

And orange goes with vodka right, so why not orange bitters? I wanted to try those out.

Orange Buffalo

2 oz Żubrówka vodka

6 drops Orange Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold vodka.

That wasn’t bad at all. Much less harsh than a straight shot of the stuff. But still, if I want a drink like this, I’ll go for the gin.

Finally, getting sillier, I wanted something to go with the Bitter Truth’s Xocolatl Mole (chocolate)  bitters. I’d just bought a bottle of Ron Matusalem Platino from Carrefour – a smooth Cuban white rum with vanilla chocolatey buttery flavours – and thought that the chocolate bitters would match the sweet chocolatey tastes.

Xocolatl Rum

2 oz Ron Matusalem Platino rum

6 drops Chocolate Bitters

Coat a cocktail glass well with the bitters and dash out the excess. Add ice-cold rum.

That was really nice! The two do go together well, and I thought I’d been just messing around. I could sip away at this one all day. It’d go well with dessert, too. But I think it’s time to stop before I go for chilli bitters and blanco tequila.

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6 Responses to “Gin Variations Four: The Pink Gin (and Orange Buffalo, Xocolatl Rum)”

  1. Ben Says:

    I had always imagined that pink gins were something effete you might drink on a cruise. However, in the novel Deadwood, Charley Utter suggests to Wild Bill Hickok that he should switch from whiskey to pink gins because the pink gin hangovers weren’t as harsh. Which gave me a new perspective on the drink.

    • theboolion Says:

      Cool. I love a Deadwood reference. The Dry Martini does seem more butch than a ‘Pink Gin’, doesn’t it, although they’re almost the same concept – a slightly tempered straight gin. There’s a lot to the name. Also, thinking Deadwood, Wondrich says the Gold Rush and the West made epicureans out of working class Americans. Apparently out West, in addition to spirits, they all drank an astonishing amount of foreign liqueurs, champagne and fancy cocktails.

      • Ben Says:

        Wondrich also speculates that Wild Bill Hickok was probably drinking Dutch gin with bitters. That might be something you want to try.

  2. Ben Says:

    Long silken hair isn’t exactly butch either. Wild Bill was a man of contradictions.

  3. Ben Says:

    I had a go at a pink gin last night. You’re right, it is more palatable than straight gin, but I’m not sure I’d choose to drink it myself unless it was the only option for avoiding malaria.


  4. I do likes me a good pink gin, or a gimlet if I’m sticking with the naval theme!


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