Everyone knows that sailors like rum but in the British Navy the officers preferred gin – largely to differentiate themselves from the “lower ranks”. The two gin delivery systems of choice were the Gimlet and the Pink Gin. Both are simple cocktails with a practical basis; the lime in the former to protect from scurvy and the the Angostura bitters in the Pink Gin to protect the stomach from the rigours of naval “cuisine”*. Now the Pink Gin is pretty secure in the title of “the simplest cocktail in cocktaildom” as it’s just a healthy dose of gin fortified with a healthy dose of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice and strained. So far, so good. The problem is that Angostura bitters are bitter (duh) and gin is bitter (mostly) and as a result the Pink Gin could be somewhat generously described as “bracing” and as such doesn’t get a lot of love. But I love gin. And I love Angostura. And I have a solution. Just a scant teaspoon of simple syrup is enough to restore the balance – and as we know balance is everything – and provide us with a most quaffable beverage. Ah, yes, there’s no fooling you is there? Indeed, this makes our slightly sweetened Pink Gin simply a Gin Old Fashioned, but hey, surely there can be no harm in that right? With our PG now balanced, the various flavours from the botanicals in both the gin and Angostura are freed to bounce around our palate. Huzzah! Now if we’re going to do this right I feel we should use some navy strength gin which weighs in at a hefty 57% ABV. Rum and gin in the Royal Navy were historically around this strength for a number of reasons of which we shall come to in my next article. But for now let’s just say that you should use navy strength gin if you have any but otherwise your favourite gin will do just fine. If using a sweeter gin such as Plymouth (and bonus points if you do for it hath the appropriate providence) or Old Tom gin you should cut back a little on the syrup. I’m also partial to the tiniest of splashes of chilled soda water in my Pink Gin to open up the flavours. If you want to “enjoy” the original version just skip the syrup…
Pink Gin (proofed).
3oz/90ml of gin (if navy strength use 2oz/60ml).
3 (or more) dashes of Angostura bitters.
1 scant teaspoon (about 4 ml) of simple (1:1) syrup.
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled champagne coupe.
Toast Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert (1796–1870) inventor of Angostura bitters.
*Although the officers mostly had the better of that, at least in the early part of any voyage.