For decades—even centuries—“pink gin” meant one thing: gin tinted with a few dashes of bitters. It was a simple drink, favored by the English and gin lovers. But pink gin means something different now.
A weird new breed of gin produced to be pink (sans bitters) was kicked off by small craft brands like Pinkster, which launched in the U.K. in 2013, and Wölffer Estate Pink Gin, made by a winery on Long Island. Recently, however, the big boys have been climbing on the bandwagon, including Greenall’s (Wild Berry Gin), Gordon’s (Premium Pink Distilled Gin) and Beefeater (Pink). These new gins get their color from every red and purple thing under the sun, including grapefruit, rose petals, hibiscus, blackberries, rhubarb, red currents, food coloring and, most commonly, strawberries and raspberries.
Drinkers have responded to gin’s rosy new look. Sales of Pinkster have doubled each year since it launched, while Wölffer Estate’s sales have increased from 1,200 bottles in 2016 to 30,000 this year. As of January, Gordon’s Premium Pink represents six percent of all of Gordon’s sales. Spain, long a lover a gin, has lapped it up. In February, Sophie Gallois, managing director of The Gin Hub—the name Pernod Ricard has given to the gin arm of its portfolio, which includes Beefeater, Plymouth and Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin—told the trade journal, The Spirits Business, that “In Spain… the pink gin trend accounts for 40 percent of all value growth within the total gin category.”
All that pink liquid shining in highballs on roof bars and patios reminds one of another blushing alcohol trend that swept the planet over the last decade. Could it be that gin makers are just whoring after the rosé audience—not to mention its chilly offspring, the frosé crowd?
“Yeah, totally,” says Roman Roth, winemaker at Wölffer Estate on Long Island, when asked if the craze for pink gin is an offshoot of the public’s undying thirst for rosé. “I’m still surprised when I see someone opening a rosé in January in the middle of a snowstorm.”
Roth’s original intention was to produce a traditional gin, distilling the estate’s rosé and infusing it only with juniper grown on the property. It was going to be called The Purist. But then he attended a gin conference, where he encountered 500 different gins, each wilder in concept than the next.
“I felt my idea was too boring,” he admits. He went back to the drawing board, adding more botanicals. Finally, owner Marc Wölffer requested a case of pink-colored gin, tinted by exposure to red grape skins. “He wanted 12 bottles of pink gin for himself,” says Roth. When Roth clapped his eyes on the vibrantly colored result, he halted production and started over, making all the gin pink. (Oddly enough, Pinkster’s color was also a bit of an accident. Its creator, Stephen Marsh, looking to make a gin-based liqueur, tried out every other fruit before finding that raspberries married best with gin.)
Wölffer Estate Pink Gin is unusual in that it tastes like, well, gin. The color adds only optics, not flavor. Even more unusual among the new crop of pink gins is The Bitter Truth, which is an actual pink gin—that is, gin flavored with aromatic bitters. The German company put it out in 2010, after tasting some old bottles from Plymouth, which used to bottle a classic pink gin. The flood of non-bittered gins has put The Bitter Truth in an odd position vis-à-vis the consumer.
“People, if they read ‘pink gin,’ they expect what is coming to the market at the moment—gin flavored with berries,” says Alexander Hauck, co-founder of The Bitter Truth. “They are surprised when they taste our gin.”
Hauck doesn’t put much stock in the idea that pink gin drinkers are just rosé lovers leaping from glass to glass. Instead, he likens the gin producers’ motivations to those of the bourbon industry, which has put out dozens of flavored whiskeys in recent years. “The reason why they come up with gin with fruity flavors is to approach new customers,” he says, “young people who are not gin drinkers yet.”
Alex Smith, an owner at Whitechapel, a gin-focused San Francisco bar, agrees. He’s worried, however, that gin might be on its way to getting the tarted-up treatment that vodka and bourbon have gone through, with more and more whimsically flavored expressions, sporting equally whimsical names (“Unicorn Tears,” et al.), crowding out the genuine item. “If gins start going the way of vodkas, and cupcake and whipped cream gins start coming out, I can assure you we will avoid them,” he says. “I’m really hoping it doesn’t come to that.”
Conversely, James Bolt, owner of The Gin Joint in Charleston, South Carolina, thinks that pink gins might find a home in the nation’s gin bars. “They are a great beginner or entryway,” he says. “They add a different skew to the normal gin categories—London dry, genever, Old Tom, Plymouth, new wave—that all bars stock.” So far, he’s put a Martini-esque cocktail using Wölffer Estate Pink Gin on his menu.
Regardless of what bartenders think, there may be no holding back the coming pink wave. Will Holt, co-founder of Pinkster, has taken a page from the rosé playbook, insisting that pink gin has the potential to be a 24-7-365 thing.
“Rosé wine has a tendency to be billed as a summer drink,” he says. “Pink gin, on the other hand, can be enjoyed all year round.”
Even gin’s longtime pal, tonic water, is getting in on the game. Fever Tree is introducing a new product called Aromatic Tonic Water, made with bitters derived with angostura bark. Its color? Pink.