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Gin Pahit

By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson


4 or 5 dashes Angostura Bitters
3 – 4 oz Dry Gin

Shake the Angostura into a stemmed cocktail glass. Per Charles H. Baker, from whose book (Jigger, Beaker, & Glass; 1939) this recipe is taken: ‘Tip the glass like the Tower of Pisa and twirl it between thumb and fingers. Whatever Angostura sticks to the glass through capillary attraction is precisely the right amount.’ Pour out any bitters that do not cling. Fill the glass with gin. Alternatively, you may put both ingredients in a shaker, then shake and strain.

We recommend the former method, with the gin and the glass being ice cold.

Featured Glassware:  Octavie Martini by Villeroy & Boch


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So, you’re out of vermouth, but want a martini?  Swirl a few drops of bitters and add some gin, presto, you’ve got yourself Gin Pahit, Pink Gin, or Gin and Bitters — however you choose to call it.  You might even call it a martini sans vermouth.  It’s a powerful drink to say the least, and one that gives credence to the English phrase “stiff upper lip”.  After drinking one of these, your lip will indeed be quite stiff, and proper, and, well, British.

Today, we offer an outtake from “Gin: A Global History”, focusing on gin’s role in empire building, and how gin cocktails went hand in hand with conquest.


Gin: A Global History”, Chapter 4 –

Historically, the words ‘Britain’ and ‘Empire’ are synonymous. As the saying goes, there was a time when the sun rose and set on the British Empire. With Empire came two elements key to gin consumption: a military whose men needed alcoholic succor and a contingent of expatriates eager to recreate the civility of home.

Britain had always been a sea power, ever hungry for conquest and discovery. During the sixteenth century reign of Henry VIII, the Navy Royal was created. Alcohol rations were traditional and necessary as the job of a sailor was both brutally backbreaking and incredibly monotonous. Alcohol made all concerned more pleasant.

In the eighteenth century, the Navy Royal became the Royal Navy, transitioning from a semi-privatized body into a state-controlled entity. With the change came a new career-driven officer corps. With officers came privilege and a distinct alcohol-based class structure aboard ship. The seamen drank rum; the officers were entitled to gin.

As far back as the 1700s, quartermasters supervised the provisioning of their individual ships; it is unlikely there was a central supervisory authority. As such, the ships often stocked the gin of their local port. Bristol and Liverpool, both naval hubs, had their own styles of gin, but these are now lost. In London, Gordon & Co. distillery, founded in 1769 by Alexander Gordon, quickly made a name for itself with  both the British and Merchant Navies, whose men spread it to the four corners of the world.

By 1859, Plymouth Gin – produced outside of London in the coastal city of Plymouth – was supplying the Royal Navy with upwards of 1,000 barrels a year of custom-made 100 UK proof gin (57% ABV/114 US proof).

The concept of this gutsy ‘Naval Strength’ gin evolved for good reason. Alcohol and gun powder were originally stored together under lock and key to avoid the potential for the crew getting drunk and having easy access to firearms. This dual storage, however, posed a serious risk, that being if standard-proof alcohol leaked on the gun powder, the powder would fail to ignite. The industrious creation of a 100 proof gin allowed for spillage on the powder without deleterious effects because it contained more alcohol than water.

One of gin’s beneficial traits is that it covered up the unpleasant taste of various medicinal treatments. Angostura Bitters was created in 1824 by Dr J. G. Siegert as ‘a useful remedy in all complaints arising from Weakness and Sluggishness of the Digestive Organs, Malaria, Colic, Diarrhoea [sic] and Colds’. For the Navy’s purposes, however, it was a cure for seasickness. Gin and Bitters evolved as a way to disguise the acrid taste of the herbal tonic.

Called ‘Gin Pahit’, meaning ‘bitter’, in British Malaysia, it soon earned the whimsical label ‘Pink Gin’, because of the pinkish-brown hue left by the bitters. This was the name embraced by authors from Somerset Maugham to Graham Greene, who held the drink as a symbol of British colonialism. By the late nineteenth century, Pink Gin had made its way back to London and had begun to appear in bars and clubs. Today, ‘Pinkers’, as it is affectionately known, is still a quintessentially British drink.”