Created by the British Royal Navy and sometimes referred to as “Pinkers,” Pink Gin is more an important historical artifact than a cocktail still popular these days. The key component is another botanical spirit—a bitters developed in 1824 by a German man who was the surgeon general in Simón Bolívar’s Venezuela army.
Dr. Siegert’s Aromatic Bitters would become Angostura bitters, named for the city where Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was then based (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, Siegert’s descendents would take the company 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 already utilizing. Angostura was perfect as a tonic for stomach ailments and seasickness.
As such a simple mix, Pink Gin most likely simply evolved and by the early 1900s, it was a ubiquitous British cocktail. When the empire waned, Pink Gin became a stuffy symbol of a bygone era, mostly dead by the 1960s.
“In the UK and along the East Coast of the U.S., it is a drink most experienced bartenders are aware of,” says Hamilton-Mudge. “But I bet if you ask for it in ten different bars, you’d get ten very different serves.” He thinks it’s time for it to return as an apéritif or light digestif.
The bitterness of Angostura brings spice and a bit of bite to the soft dry finish of Plymouth Gin. The sweet orange in Plymouth pulls the gin forward, allowing this drink to linger down the palate.
When mixing with Plymouth Gin Navy Strength, stir your drinks considerably longer to add enough water to unlock the flavors of the gin. If you only have original strength Plymouth on hand, no problem; Pink Gin still works beautifully with it.