“There’s a huge proliferation this summer”, says Will Holt, co-founder of Pinkster, which has been distilling raspberry-infused gins for five years. The marketing muscle of entrants from Gordons and Beefeater is being felt, and it’s pushing the wave. “We feel like a pink pioneer. It’s flavour of the month now but it’s not about the colour, it’s about the flower. Ours are grown with locally farmed raspberries, and we distil heaps of juniper tempered with the fruit and well-spanked mint.”
The juniper is important, Holt stresses, because there’s a schoolmasterly purist crowd who argue that what they’re doing isn’t in the gin spirit. Not that coloured gins haven’t secured a new fanbase.
“There’ll be people who like snapping on their smartphones and a pink drink is very Instagrammable,” admits Holt. “But we’re more than a fad.”
Certainly, things are joyfully old school at The Old Curiosity Distillery, the nation’s only pure working gin botanical garden, which is set in a 7.5-acre secret herb garden nestled at the foot of the Pentland Hills in Scotland.
Fresh roses, lavender and camomile are distilled separately and infused in gin here, having been hand harvested, dried and stored.
Take its Geranium and Mallow bottle. Distilled petals of the ancient Damask rose (which is literally as old as the hills) create a pale golden spirit that turns to a powerful fuscia pink once tonic is added.
The tonic changes the pH of the spirit, which in turn is what makes the colour change. “I’m a plants person, a herbalist by trade, with over 600 herbs”, says Hamish Martin, co-founder of Old Curiosity Gin. “By coincidence I found out that roses turn pink when you add citric acid to it. So I pitched the idea. It takes people back to nature — you can taste the roses, lavender and camomile.”
His garden’s produce went mainstream in April, when Marks & Spencer started stocking British Rose and British Lavender bottles distilled at The Old Curiosity Distillery.
Meanwhile, Old Curiosity has some colourful competition from foreign brands. Ink, a small-batch Australian craft gin, boasts 13 botanicals ranging from melon myrtle, coriander, lemon peel and Tasmania berries: a deep infusion of petals from a Thai flower known as the Butterfly Pea turns it blue.
nother bright blue entrant, Sharish Magic Gin, reaches us from Portugal. Botanicals include strawberry, raspberry, cinnamon, cardamom, lemon peel, angelica root, ginger, liquorice, coriander and of course juniper, and the hue is reliant on the butterfly pea. It’s smooth and fruity on the palate.
Firkin, another Scottish distiller, turns its gin blue using spirulina — a dietary supplement stocked by Holland & Barrett as a nutrient-dense superfood. It’s packed with protein, good fats, vitamins and minerals including vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium and iron, apparently. Drink responsibly — now with extra benefits.
Beyond the floral, there is some further method to this synesthetic experimenting. Bartenders have long pondered the effect of colour on your customer satisfaction. Stuart Bale, a well-esteemed bar consultant, has run several colour-wheel experiments on the effect of colour on mood at The Crucible in Haggerston (It’s a co-working space for bartenders, featuring gadgets including a centrifuge, rotavap, homogeniser, ice-cream maker, water bath). Numerous scientific studies have enthusiastically suggested that people who are angry or upset are likely to calm down in a pink environment, while pulse and blood pressure go down in a blue environment.
Of course, when alcohol is involved the rulebook is at best blurry, at worst out of the window. Regardless, add some colour to your lives. It’s summer, after all.