How To Make A Pink Gin – And Why James Bond Is Wrong For Once

“It’s considerably smoother than one has any right to expect”

-David Wondrich, Esquire

My mother was quite a fan of gin… most other forms of alcohol left her relatively cold, but gin on the other hand was something to savour. And that was just as well as her favourite way of drinking it was as a Pink Gin – not for the faint hearted.

She was in good company, others to favour a Pink Gin (also sometimes known as gin and bitters for obvious reasons) were hard-bitten naval men, Commander Bond for example to name just one (he orders one at the Thunderbird Hotel, in The Man with the Golden Gun). The connection with the navy arises from the use of Plymouth Gin, Plymouth being a city long associated with the navy, and indeed the gin was produced in a special ‘navy’ strength – 57% proof to meet the demands of the sailors. Commander Bond breaks tradition and orders his with London Gin, but, for once I think he’s wrong. Why?

Plymouth Gin, like Stornoway black pudding, is a Protected Geographical Indication. It’s still produced in the Black Friars’ Distillery – the only remaining distillery in Plymouth. It’s slightly sweeter than ‘dry’ London gin due to a higher proportion of root ingredients (orris root for example). For more on gin, follow this link. Most good cocktails have three elements – strong, bitter, and sweet. The pink gin has just two ingredients – Angostura Bitters which provides the bitter element, and the gin therefore being left to provide both the strong (use export strength of course) and the sweet elements – so the sweeter Plymouth gin is the more appropriate.

Effectively a Pink Gin is pretty much neat gin, but it gets its pink colour from a generous few of drops of angostura bitters – or as Ted Haigh, in Vintage Cocktails and Forgotten Spirits exhorts, “six goodly dashes”. Many afficionados dash their drops into the glass first, turning it around to coat that part of the glass which is just about to receive the gin. I prefer to watch the drops swirl and trail in the clear gin.

The drink can be further dressed up with a little lemon zest – which also helps to bring out the flavour of the gin although the artist in me prefers to use lime – the green complements the pink of the gin very attractively.

And a lot of people like their Pink Gin chilled to the bone, made from cold gin in a cold glass, but I draw the line at the idea of an ice cube. Why go to all the trouble of getting the navy strength Plymouth gin and then watering it down?


This post is dedicated to Dorothy Raffael.


plymouth gin
Plymouth – a lovely old navy town



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