Pink gin is swirling across social media. Rhubarb, raspberry, rose petal, and pampelmousse-infused cocktails are served up in coupes topped with froth and edible flowers. Bottles of rosy gins, tinted by petals and fruit, are joining esoteric new floral and herbal gin blends on shelves in local liquor stores and are gracing many an Instagram post.
But where and how did the pink gin love affair begin? Essentially, there are three pink gins. The new, the old, and the hybrid, and we'll walk you through each category.
Rosy in the bottle, aesthetically charged gins are fresh to cocktail culture. They were born about a decade into the 21st century, when international interest in gin-brewing exploded and the popularity of rosé wines accelerated. Craft gin makers responded by pinking their gins—sometimes accidentally, as they tried new infusions. From British imports like Gin Lane 1751 Victoria Pink Gin ($32.99, caskers.com) and American craft makers like Wolffer Estate's Pink Gin ($55.99, wine.com), to the big gin guns, like Gordon's and Beefeater, everyone has gone pink. Gin makers have infused their distillations with botanicals that instantly draw the eye. Hibiscus, blackberry, pomegranate, red grape skins, strawberry, and food coloring. If it is pink, it will photograph well. Pink gin has officially gone mainstream.
Then there is a more austere, sparkling, rusty drink where the sense of juniper blends with the scent of a lemon twist. The effervescence comes, of course, from the best botanical tonic water, because in the age of gin-plenty, the tonic companies have upped their game dramatically. This is the original pink gin. That russet color traditionally comes from a small bottle of Angostura bitters. Developed in Venezuela in the early 19th century by the German surgeon general of Simón Bolívar's army, Angostura (now made in Spain) became the most commercially successful bitter in an era when blends of concentrated botanical tinctures, known as bitters, were routinely taken for medicinal reasons. (Another well-known bitter, Peychaud's, was born in New Orleans around the same time.) Literally bitter and unpleasant to swallow on their own, dropped into sweet Plymouth gin, bitters went down very nicely as a mixed drink. This is the medicinal harbinger of the classic pink gin cocktail that evolved to use tonic water as a mixer. (Tonic water itself is a 19th century British Empire-born creation, it was used as a prophylactic against malaria, thanks to its bitter quinine content.)
In the mid-20th century Ernest Hemingway unintentionally re-invigorated the home bar scene with his precise prose—he was an exceptional food writer. In Islands in a Stream, his protagonist is about to be driven across the Cuban countryside to Havana and gives an order: "Make me a Tom Collins with coconut water and bitters." He sips this drink, "tautened by the bitters that gave it color" as he is chauffeured into the city. The gin is Gordon's, there is freshly squeezed lime juice, and the drink itself is rusty-colored. That's a pink gin.
Blending modern bitters or syrups based on ingredients that fall within a—you guessed it, pink!—range of botanicals, such as cherry blossom, figs, rose hips, and red currants, is an easy way to flush the liquid with that photogenic blush; doing so creates a riff off both styles of pink gin and satisfies the contemporary obsession for any pink drink. There is no limit to the blending potential. Our Pink Gin Martini is also in deliciously hybrid territory. It combines classic gin with cherry liqueur, kirsch, and Angostura bitters to achieve its signature pink hue, plus vermouth to take this cocktail into martini territory.
Whether you like your drink purist-clear, bedazzled with botanical finery, or blended with home-crafted infusions, this is the new age of pink gin—enjoy them all.