Prior to the end of the 19th century, truly dry gin cocktails were few and far between. In fact, when “Professor” Jerry Thomas’s How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon Vivant’s Companion was first released in America, in 1862, its gin recipes seemed to mostly be spin-offs of more established whiskey- and brandy-based recipes, like the Julep and Crusta. For these, per the tastes of the day, Thomas tended to favor sweeter gins and genevers, the latter of which he called “Holland” gin.
It wasn’t until later in the century that gin cocktails began to skew drier. By 1896, bartender Thomas Stuart devoted the final section of his book, Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, to “New And Up-To-Date Drinks,” which listed recipes with then-non-traditional cocktail ingredients, like “pecon” bitters and absinthe. It’s here we see Plymouth Gin first being called by name in drier cocktails, like Stuart’s Marguerite.
By the time Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book was published, in 1930, cocktails, especially dry gin ones, had become more commonplace at bars, as was the use of specific brand names in their recipes. Craddock was English but moved to the States in his early 20s, where he would work at some of the country’s most popular bars of the time, including New York’s Hoffman House and The Knickerbocker. (It’s claimed he made the last legal cocktail before Prohibition started in 1920.) After that, he briefly bartended on boats just off the shores of New York—legal and popular drinking workarounds for rich folks—before returning to London. There, in 1925, he became head bartender at The Savoy Hotel (where Stuart had also once worked). Soon famous enough to become enshrined in wax at Madame Tussaud’s, Craddock’s compendium of over 1,000 recipes was much ballyhooed upon its release and has itself since become enshrined in the essential cocktail book library.
Featured by name in 34 different recipes, Plymouth Gin is the second most-named spirit in Craddock’s entire book, after Bacardi rum. Though some of these drinks, like the Charles Lindbergh Cocktail and the Leave it to Me Cocktail (No. 1), have yet to be widely resurrected in bars, several others that call for Plymouth Gin—the Bijou and the Gimlet among them—would be recognized by any modern cocktail lover. Where the spirit most shines in The Savoy, however, is in dry, Martini-like drinks, especially the Douglas and the Hoffman House Cocktail, which foreshadow how Plymouth Gin would come to be favored by bartenders today.
Plymouth Gin would go on to be referenced in other canonical cocktail books, including The Waldorf Astoria Book, and become closely tied to several historical drinks that are still being enjoyed today. Here, get to know five of them.
By the time Lachlan Rose’s preserved lime juice was put aboard to help prevent scurvy sometime after 1867, Plymouth Gin Navy Strength had long been on British Royal Navy boats slaking thirsts. As all Navy vessels were required to provide a daily ration of lime juice to sailors while at sea, mixing these two items together was an obvious idea, though the drink’s inventor is usually credited as being Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette—an impossibility as he was only ten when Rose’s was first put on ships. Still, the legend, and the drink, prevails.
The British Royal Navy is also supposed to get the credit for this one, in which the key component is another botanical spirit—a bitters developed in 1824 that would eventually become Angostura bitters, named for the Venezuelan city where it was born (today’s Ciudad Bolívar). When, in 1862, Angostura was brought to London’s International Exhibition, one theory is that the first-ever Pink Gin was mixed up (although sailors had been mixing up Pink Gins before this point). Eventually, production would go from Venezuela to Trinidad, an English territory; if it hadn’t already happened long before, this would surely be the impetus to match Angostura bitters with the Plymouth Gin the Royal Navy was utilizing. Angostura was perfect as a tonic for stomach ailments and seasickness.
Until recently, “Pinkers” was more known as an important historical artifact than as a cocktail still popularly consumed these days—before it started popping up on menus at cocktail bars known for a serious interest in Martinis, or, alternatively, served as a long drink with soda water for a more sessionable, pre-5pm variation.
Commonly attributed to Harry Johnson—who included the recipe in the 1900 edition of New and Improved Bartender’s Manual—this improbable combo of gin, sweet vermouth and Chartreuse arose in the late 1800s. Bijou, meaning “jewel” in French, is said to refer to the gem-colored spirits that comprise the recipe. Johnson’s recipe allowed one to choose between a cherry or olive garnish; history would eventually decide emphatically in the cherry’s favor. This version, from Dale DeGroff’s The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks, increases the proportion of Plymouth Gin to create a more delicate, drier cocktail.
Supposedly the eponymous house cocktail at Manhattan’s Hoffman House in the 1880s, this drink makes its first written appearance in Craddock’s 1930 The Savoy Cocktail Book. (It is, oddly, not mentioned once in Charles S. Mahoney’s 1905 book The Hoffman House Bartender’s Guide: How to Open a Saloon and Make it Pay. A house highball, cooler, fizz, punch and Old-Fashioned are, however.) By now we are getting very close to the platonic ideal of the dry Martini—perhaps even more so in the Douglas Cocktail, also from The Savoy, which removes the orange bitters and adds an orange twist alongside the lemon twist.
Replete with lawn tennis and golf, the Tuxedo Club was established in Tuxedo Park, New York, a little over an hour outside of New York City. Well-heeled club members no doubt took the train in and out of Grand Central, perhaps even fortifying themselves with a drink at the nearby Waldorf Astoria. Conveniently, it’s there that the Tuxedo was, in fact created. This recipe comes from Daly’s Bartenders Encyclopedia (1903), and originally called for maple gin, which has been updated to maple syrup here.