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What is Pink Gin?

By Devon Pryor
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pink gin is a cocktail made with gin and a dash of Angostura bitters. The pink gin cocktail was, perhaps, most popular in the United Kingdom during the 19th century, and is also known as a gin and bitters.

A pink gin is simply not a pink gin without Angostura bitters. Angostura bitters are a flavoring used today for both food and beverages. They are made from extracts of spices and the flowering plant gentian, some species of which are known for their medicinal properties. Angostura bitters are highly concentrated, and have a dark red color. Thus, when a dash of Angostura bitters is added to clear gin, the gin turns pink.

Oddly enough, the evolution of the pink gin cocktail can be traced back to 19th century South America. In 1824, Doctor Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert was serving as a surgeon in Simón Bolivar’s army in the struggle against Spanish colonialism. Doctor Siegert, also an avid scientist, sought to discover a cure for stomach upset, which was affecting a large number of Bolivar’s troops.

Doctor Siegert developed a tonic that included gentian extract, and called it Amargo Aromatico, or aromatic bitters. Whether Doctor Siegert truly discovered the anti-nausea properties of gentian extract remains a point of debate. What is clear is that Doctor Siegert’s tonic helped to relieve nausea and upset stomach. The name Angostura bitters comes from Angostura, Venezuela, the town where Doctor Siegert was based during his service.

In 1830, Doctor Siegert had his Angosutra bitters exported to Trinidad and England, where it began to be used by sailors in the British Royal Navy to relieve seasickness. In order to make the tonic more appetizing, the sailors added the bitters to gin. Thus, the pink gin cocktail is said to have been invented by the British Royal Navy.

A basic pink gin cocktail is served straight up in a cocktail glass. The glass should be chilled and three to four dashes of Angostura bitters should be swirled around in the glass to coat the inside, then poured out. Dry gin should be chilled, and strained into the glass. A typical garnish for a pink gin is lemon twist, a curled strip of lemon rind. It is likely that the original pink gin recipe was a bit more off the cuff, and variations do exist. For example, sometimes the pink gin is topped with ice water.

Another variation of the pink gin is a pink gin and tonic, made from four dashes of Angostura bitters and two shots of gin, topped off with tonic and served in a highball glass. Angostura bitters are also added to a manhattan, a whiskey cocktail with Italian vermouth and a maraschino cherry. A classic British champagne cocktail is made from champagne, a squeeze of lemon, an ice cube, and a lump of sugar soaked in Angostura bitters.

Interestingly, gentian root extract is also used to create the French liquor, Suze. Bitters are used as a flavoring for the soft drink, Moxie. Gin is a grain spirit flavored with juniper berries. Gin may also include extracts of citrus, anise, angelica root, orris root, licorice, cinnamon, coriander, and cassia bark.

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Discussion Comments
By naturesgurl3 — On Oct 04, 2010

Can anybody tell me some good pink gin drinks? I'm throwing a 21st birthday party for my friend, and she loves pink, so I'm trying to keep everything pink-themed. I've already got martinis with pink gin, and I've heard that making a pink gin with a grapefruit twist is also really good.

Does anybody else have any good pink gin variations for me?

By yournamehere — On Oct 04, 2010

I once went to a gin bar that specialized in gin-based cocktails, and they had the best pink gin martinis I have ever tried. Something about the combination of the bitters and gin, with that little bit of lemon in the gin just totally does it for me.

I've tried to replicate it at home, but I can never get it quite right -- I guess it's one of those things that you just have to practice at.

By Charlie89 — On Oct 04, 2010

That's so funny that the pink gin actually got its start in the British navy. I could see drinking pink gin on a yacht, and I could certainly see drinking pink gin on a beach, but pink gin on a navy ship seems a bit beyond me.

A little bit of FYI for you -- there is actually a beach called Pink Gin Beach in Grenada. I've never been there, but people say it's killer. I always thought that was a funny name for a beach, but I bet it's a lot of fun.

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