This Valentine's Day, I'm giving myself permission to waltz past the bottles of Rosé, to look beyond the cherry liqueur cocktails, and to avoid the ubiquitous, overly sweet mixed drink confections that seem to dominate bar menus every February. This year, I'm laying claim to February 14th, thanks to a new variation on an old love. Yes, I'm talking gin — pink gin, to be precise.
While I tend to roll my eyes at most flavored (or dyed) liquors, pink gin is a legitimate spirit that launched in the United Kingdom before making its way across the Atlantic in mid-2018. Its rosy hue isn't an affectation, either — it's a byproduct of herbs, fruits, and spices that add flavor to the drink. Combined with juice, tonic, or another mixer, pink gin's flavor profile blooms with the intensity of a hothouse flower.
Some purists are revolted by this trend, blamed, as you might guess, on the millennial generation, but I adore the blushing varietal. I'm not the only one: according to The Guardian, pink gin has been the most successful spirits launch of the decade, attracting wine and ready-to-drink beverage consumers en masse. Just last month, the international magazine Spirits Business reported that pink gin boosted Irish gin exports 213 percent in 2018; that's more than a half-million bottles of the new spirit, which is now approximately 50-brands strong in Ireland alone.
In Memphis, we currently have fewer choices. I've found Eden Mill Love Gin, distilled in St. Andrews, Scotland, on local store shelves. Sold in a stout cream-colored, swing-top stoppered bottle emblazoned with an eye-catching pink rose, Love Gin is a balanced blend of the expected juniper with notes of citrus, vanilla, and rose. The ingredients include hibiscus, goji berries and elderberries, coriander, rhubarb root, and raspberry leaf. At $40 per 750 milliliters, it's not necessarily for everyday drinking, but Love Gin certainly elevates a gin and tonic to ambrosial levels of deliciousness. Do yourself a favor, and don't use Love Gin as a basis for complex cocktails — the subtleties of the spirit will be lost if it's combined with too many ingredients.
Also easy to find locally is Beefeater Pink, which takes the classic London gin and infuses it with strawberry, lemon and orange peel, almonds, angelica root, coriander, orris, and licorice to make a spirit that's "vibrant" and easy to drink, according to Beefeater's marketing efforts. I've fallen head over heels for this cheeky young cousin to Beefeater's classic London gin, which retails for around $24 for 750 milliliters. When the temperatures dropped in late December, I sipped on the Pink Peppercorn Rose, a simple cocktail made from equal parts Beefeater Pink, rosé and grape juice stirred with about a tablespoon of peppercorn syrup (simple syrup steeped with a quarter-cup of black peppercorns and strained) and topped with tonic water. Poured into a lowball glass and garnished with lemon peel and a pinch of whole peppercorns, the drink warmed me from the inside out.
I also went gaga for the Pink & Orange Tonic, an easy cocktail that mixes Beefeater Pink with blood orange juice, orange bitters, and tonic. I went with the 365 Blood Orange Juice and Fever-Tree Naturally Light Tonic Water, which seemed worthier of pink gin than my usual no-name brand 99-cent diet tonic water. Blood orange juice is a great winter mixer, and the small bottle of Angostura Orange Bitters I purchased makes a welcome addition to my supply of bar mixers.
When I ran out of pink gin, I simply resorted to the Pink Gin cocktail, invented by the British Royal Navy in the 1800s. The drink has no pink gin in it — just good ol' straight gin combined with a few dashes of Angostura bitters, shaken with ice, and served with a lemon peel garnish. Tradition dictates that the legacy drink is made with Plymouth Gin, which, as a "Navy strength" gin, has a higher ABV than other brands. I made mine with Tanqueray, and I couldn't tell the difference. Put the gin bottle in the freezer for a few hours, and you can skip the ice. Drink sparingly.