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Pink Gin is different, though. For starters, I came across the recipe in the book Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails—and author Ted Haigh takes his cocktails very seriously. For another, it's probably the least "girly" drink imaginable. Haigh's introduction to the cocktail: "Sounds cute doesn't it? Pink Gin—like sugarcoated barbed wire. Actually, it's worse than that. With the exception of raw egg, no two ingredients send greenhorn drinkers galloping for the hills faster than gin and bitters."
In fact, gin and bitters are the only two ingredients in the cocktail. According to Haigh, it originated in the British Royal Navy; officers got a daily ration of gin, but mixers were scarce. A few dashes of Angostura bitters apparently improved the room-temperature spirit. Haigh insists that "this particular gin when combined with the Angostura creates something more than the sum of its parts. It's amazing. . . . I've gotten people who insisted they hate gin and hate bitters to like this drink. It's chemistry. Trust science."
Back to the "particular gin" he's talking about here: Haigh explains in the introduction that there are only two brands of gin that work for this cocktail, Plymouth and Tanqueray Malacca. He calls for Plymouth gin, because Tanqueray Malacca was on the market for less than five years before being discontinued in 2001. As it happens, though, Tanqueray did a limited re-release of Malacca last spring and sent me a bottle. I believe I tried making gin and tonics with it last summer and found the drinks too sweet, though I wasn't taking notes at the time. But the gin's sweetness is exactly why it works in the Pink Gin, paired with nothing but bitters.
I followed Haigh's recipe exactly, except for scaling it back a bit: he called for three ounces of gin and six dashes of Angostura bitters shaken with ice and strained into a stemmed cocktail glass; I made each drink with two ounces of gin and four dashes of bitters. The finished product was more orange than pink, and surprisingly smooth. After the first bracingly alcoholic sip, my palate adjusted quickly and the floral, earthy notes came through.
To test Haigh's assertion that the drink doesn't work with other gin, I also tried making it with regular Tanqueray. It was awful, all astringent alcohol that overwhelmed any other flavor. Other recipes for the Pink Gin that I found online suggested topping the cocktail with tonic, so I tried that as well. My two fellow tasters liked it better that way, but I thought the tonic threw off the balance and made it too bitter; I ended up tasting the quinine more than anything else.
I also experimented with making gin and tonic with the two gins. I used Q Tonic, a "premium" tonic water that's much more bitter than the traditional Schweppes. I wish I'd had a sweeter tonic water to try as well, because I suspect the results would have varied dramatically. Q Tonic has an almost medicinal flavor which, together with the regular Tanqueray, ended up being too bitter; the quinine overwhelmed the lime. The Tanqueray Malacca, however, tamed the tonic's medicinal bite, resulting in a light, slightly tart drink where the lime came through beautifully. I suspect that a gin and tonic made with Malacca and Schweppes would be too sweet, though, while the sweeter tonic with regular Tanqueray would probably work well.
Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays.