This week at Last Call HQ has been... let's go with "interesting". I'll spare you the details (except to ask, how did that fit down the drain to begin with?). Suffice to say, a libation sounds pretty damn good right about now.
Something sophisticated sounds nice, but the thought of precisely measuring out several ingredients is the last thing on my mind. Thankfully, none other than the British Royal Navy has my back. As far back as the 19th Century, their sailors drank a little concoction called Pink Gin.
If you look behind almost any respectable bar, you'll see a little bottle of Angostura Bitters. Angostura started out as a medicinal tonic nearly two centuries ago, way back in 1824. To this day, if you mention to an accommodating bartender that you have an upset stomach, they'll probably start making you a glass of Angostura bitters and soda before you have the chance to request it. Indeed, it works pretty well. And, it tastes good even when you don't have reason to drink one.
See Also: The Quest for a Good Gin and Tonic
Angostura, like many bitters, is a highly concentrated blend of botanicals. It's not the kind of thing you'd drink straight; that's why there's the little dasher top on the bottle. So if you're using Angostura, you more or less have to mix it into something.
Leave it to the Royal Navy to mix the bitters with that quintessentially British spirit, gin. The Royal Navy was quite fond of Plymouth gin, a variety that's a little sweeter and not as juniper-heavy as your average London dry gin.
It just so happens that the softer style of Plymouth gin marries very well with Angostura bitters. How well do they go together? I've offered this drink to people who have told me they don't like bitters, and they really hate gin, only to have them tell me they absolutely love this drink.
There is another gin that's even better here: Tanqueray Malacca. It's a fairly soft gin; it's a touch sweet, with the juniper dialed back, and a little more fruity than most. It was originally released in 1997, arguably about 10 years ahead of its time. It quickly faded into obscurity. Or it would have, if the craft cocktail renaissance didn't kick into high gear just after the Malacca supply ran out.
Last year, Tanqueray did a limited re-release of the fabled Malacca gin. I got my hands on some, and can confidently say that it makes the best damn Gin & Tonic you'll ever have, and the Pink Gin is even better. Now that it appears to be getting scarce once more, I can only hope that Tanqueray brings Malacca back for good. Please?
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While a Pink Gin is best with Tanqueray Malacca or Plymouth, you can still use other gins to good effect. In general, the less juniper, the better a Pink Gin tastes. Skip the London Dry gins and you'll be fine. Or, try it with sweeter Old Tom gins such as Hayman's. But let's be honest here; if you have a bottle of Old Tom behind the bar, you already have a bottle of Plymouth too.
Pink Gin 2 or 3 dashes Angostura bitters 1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin (or Tanqueray Malacca if you can find it) Stir well with ice cubes. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a strip of lemon zest.
Variation: Pink Gin & Tonic Build over ice in a tall glass, filling with 3 or so ounces of tonic water. Stir gently to combine.