It doesn’ take much to mix up a Pink Gin cocktail; all that’s needed is a hefty amount of gin and Angostura bitters. With decades of experience making the drink, former bartender and brand ambassador, and co-founder of Candra (and U.K. native) Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge is here to explain the drink’s significance in British culture and over time.
In this episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy chats with Hamilton-Mudge on all things Pink Gin. The two explore the cocktail’s long history dating back to the 1800s, how to properly stir the drink, and the many different forms the final cocktail can take on.
Tune in to learn how to make the perfect Pink Gin
Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge’s Pink Gin Recipe
- 2 ounces gin, preferably Plymouth
- Angostura bitters to taste
- Lemon or orange twist
- Add all ingredients to a mixing glass and stir until cold.
- Strain into a coupe or Nick and Nora glass.
- Garnish with an optional lemon or orange twist.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” I’m your host, Tim McKirdy, and with me today I have Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge. Fantastic name, by the way. Welcome to the show.
Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge: Thanks so much. Good to see you.
T: Can you tell us your full name? Because I think it might be the most English name that I’ve ever come across, and I love it.
S: Yeah. Sebastian Justin Thomas Hamilton-Mudge.
T: Fantastic. I think more than anything that we’re about to discuss, that gives you the credentials to explore today’s cocktail because this is a classic and probably forgotten — or mainly forgotten— British cocktail. And the cocktail is Pink Gin. And I want to get something out of the way first. A lot of people listening to this might be thinking, oh yeah, pink gin. That’s the trend that’s happening soon. Maybe I’ve seen a bottle from Beefeater. We are not talking about that today, right Seb?
S: We’re talking about the Pink Gin cocktail, which is arguably one of the oldest cocktails out there.
T: Amazing. And before we dive into it, can you tell us a little bit about your experience or path to getting here today. What’s your career looked like so far?
S: Yeah, absolutely. I started bartending in the U.K. in the mid-’90s. It was a way to pay to take trips, and I was going through college at the time as well. I’d worked as a waiter or a server since about the age of 14. It was a good way to earn a bit of money to travel around. I ended up behind the bar. In the U.K., it can be a bit earlier than in the U.S. So from the age of 18, I knew everything there was about bartending, obviously, the arrogance of youth. Strangely enough, it was just around that time that the cocktail was starting to trickle back into the mainstream and I got approached by a company. I was in a city called Bristol and got approached to become part of this professional team, and they really sold it on it being a career. There was training and we were going to be doing three or four weeks of education before we even started. We could even make a drink for anyone with booze. I found this utterly intriguing, you know? Much to my mother’s dismay at the time, I deferred my history degree. I was going to do something obviously sensible with my life to go and do art. So she put up with that for a year and then thought I’d go back and do the history degree, and I was like, “I could be a professional bartender.” I think that generation or my generation, we’re all very passionate in the way that if we’re still in it now it’s because you had to be. In the U.K., you didn’t really earn any tips. I mean, you do see tips serving food, but the thought of tipping out some bartender, it would be laughable. It was terrible hours of minimal pay and zero tips.
T: You’re really selling it.
S: Yeah. So you have to absolutely love it. I still love it. I fell in love with it. Like I said, I was going to study history. I always had a love of history. I was very much a dedicated sportsman as well. I still do a lot of sport these days and surf and ski in all sorts of fun things and rock climbing, etc. I found this career that gave me a bit of everything it gave me, being an art college, I gotta make things look pretty in glasses. I got to be creative, rather than with sculptural painting, but with flavor. So I had this creative outlet. On a busy service, it was like playing a sport. The carnage of service on Saturday night. I worked at a couple of very high-volume cocktail places, you’re just slinging hundreds of drinks. That camaraderie, that teamwork that you get in a good bar team very much gave me that fix. And then as my career moved on and I got more into the mixology and that side of it, the research, the studying of history, the appreciation to try and shape where drinking might go in the future. I’m sure many people have come across times where you go into a restaurant, you see this drink with a new name and you read it and think, that’s a drink from 60 years ago or 100 years ago.
T: There’s a finite number of ingredients, but still quite a lot of them.
S: The classics are classics for a reason, and it’s because these ratios just work. I spent many, many years educating bartenders and it’s just there’s so many great simple rules that just work and they give you a framework when you are then developing on. It’s very rare you reinvent the wheel. There are combinations, there are ratios that work and they give you a framework to move on with your career.
T: Tell us about that, moving on from working behind the bar to the role that would essentially see you educating bartenders and also bring you here to the U.S.
S: I moved into events in the late ‘90s, and then I got more into education. I guess I knew more than those around me, as it were. So it really set me on that path into the educating of bartenders and research. My first bit of education was in Plymouth Gin. I got that association with gin back in ’99. That’s really dating me. I met my good friend Simon Ford, I think it was about ’98, and that was when I did my first trip to Plymouth Gin. That was my very first distillery. A few years on from that I owned a couple of bars of my own. Then the opportunity came up to be a global ambassador with Beefeater and then with Plymouth Gin as well. Going on nearly nine years, I think it was. Actually a little shorter because I moved out to the U.S. just over four years ago. I was based in Los Angeles and in that role, I was focused on helping to drive the brand in the U.S. So I was in a few hats for those years. I left there a couple of years ago now, and we created our own creative agency consultancy with a great group of people from L.A. We’ve also launched an online platform for education for pretty much focused on consumers, but without dumbing it down, if that makes sense. If a drink needs to be well balanced, it doesn’t matter whether you’re professional or whether you’re at home. The drink is either in balance or it’s not. We’ve not shied away from the slightly more nerdy topics, but try to keep it a very subtle, lighthearted way as well. That’s called Candra, short for Candid Drinks Advice (Candradrinks.com). So that’s what we’re doing today. Still doing education and working a lot with consumers and trying to take that message to consumers because I think it’s great that the cocktail bar now as a concept really died in a good way. You think back to the ‘90s, early 2000s, the cocktail bar, the style bar was its own thing. And over the last 20-odd years, we’ve seen cocktails now permeate everywhere. You can’t open a restaurant now and not have a program. Museums in New York now have some of the best bars around. Whether they’re good or bad, It’s not the point in some respects, but you can buy cocktails in supermarkets these days. It just goes to show how it’s just throughout the entire society. Cocktails, certainly for the next few years, isn’t a trend or fad. It’s really here to stay.
The History of the Pink Gin
T: Thanks in large part to the work of fine professionals like yourself. You mentioned that these days you don’t try and get too nerdy, but we are going to get nerdy today. Right? We are getting nerdy because this is an esoteric drink. Tell us all about it, the ingredients and the history of it and the foundation. This incredible history that many people probably don’t realize.
S: Yeah, that’s a big question. The first was pretty simple: it’s gin and Angostura Bitters. Historically, the gin on a ship at that time would have been Plymouth. So you want to be historically correct. We want to pick up a bottle of Plymouth and Angostura Bitters and then add water. I would say water 100 percent, because for me, dilution is fundamentally the most important concept. I think temperature gets talked about. But for me, unlocking flavor within alcohol with dilution is something I get ribbed a lot by other professional friends of mine because I always talk about dilution. It’s the one thing that gets missed all the time. And it’s the thing I harp on about with young bartenders as well. With Beefeater for years, we had the world’s biggest gin cocktail competition with professionals. My most common bit of feedback was that everything was right, but the drink was too tight. Everyone has experienced this when you take a drink and it’s sometimes too sweet and sour at the same time and you think, well, how can it be too sweet and sour? And you find that they’ve actually found the balance point of acidity and sweetness. But the dilution is not there. Then you haven’t unlocked those flavors, you need water or dilution of some degree to actually unlock all those flavors and aromas. So for me, that’s the key to Pink Gin. It’s two ingredients, but it’s two ingredients with a humongous number of flavor compounds in them. It’s got seven botanicals, and something like 68 or so in a different flavor compound within Plymouth Gin itself. Juniper isn’t just a flavor; there is huge complexity within juniper itself. And with the correct amount of dilution to unlock it, you’ve actually got a really complex and interesting drink without having to add all those other ingredients that we often associate with the cocktail.
T: That’s just one point, too, before we do dial in a little bit more to the history. But this idea of two two very common (not simple) ingredients that will be on the back bar of most people or people’s bars at homes or whatever. And that’s what blows my mind about this drink because it almost feels when you think about it, like, how can this be complex? How can that take us into the same realm as something like a Sazerac or a Martini? But it absolutely can. But before we get into that and before we get into best practices for making, tell us about historical gin rations. You mentioned the British Royal Navy. And then another ingredient for fighting disease, I believe one of our guests has called it an antiscorbutic before. A great advantage of using Angostura Bitters is that it’s going to remain stable, right? It’s not a fresh ingredient, but how do these two ingredients come together? What did it look like over time and why? If this is such a great drink, why don’t I see it on menus? Where did it go?
S: Yeah, it’s a good question. I guess we probably go back to Dr. Siegert, who studied medicine in Berlin and then he was at the Battle of Waterloo as an army medic, and he traveled out with some British and Prussian vets to Venezuela in 1824 to join up with Bolivar who were fighting to repel the Spanish out of the northern parts of South America. They landed in a town called Angostura on the banks of the Orinoco River. As the rebellion rolled on, he stayed behind. History is a little fuzzy, but he certainly remained there to develop a medicine, and there is talk that he probably worked with the locals there. It would make sense. He created what was called Siegert Aromatic Bitters in 1824. Even going forward many years, the description of what it was actually for that it’s no secret.
T: I was thinking about us before recording this show. I’ve always thought about bitters being this cure-all for ailments, but I’ve never actually come across what we’re using it for, right? Like, limes are for scurvy. I get it. But bitters, does it just do it all? Does it do anything? I don’t know from a medical point of view.
S: I wouldn’t want to go on the record. I mean, with those years of excessive traveling and when I landed somewhere and was not feeling good, it was after my first drink of choice to settle myself. You landed somewhere, Korea or something after a long flight. And my first drink, when I’d get the first bar, sit there and just have a moment of quiet. And I would often drink a Pink Gin, and it just would be very settling, calming. That was probably the biggest thing, was the stomach complaints. That was really what it became famous for. Again, we don’t know exactly when, but at some point, the British Navy got hold of it around 1826. They found a bottle in Georgetown and Cayman and brought it on board, mixing it with gin. The name obviously is probably one thing we should talk about because obviously just a few drops of Angostura Bitters, they turned the gin itself a beautiful, delicate pink color. If you go heavy on it, it gets more orange in color. But a few drops and it has this beautiful pink color to it, hence the name Pink Gin. It certainly grew in popularity but it’s like many of these great classic cocktails. It was definitely something that became popularized throughout the British Navy throughout the 1800s. It first came across to the U.K., I think it was 1830. So it was bouncing around, but it was tiny amounts until I think his son came on board the business in 1853. They were doing about 20 dozen cases. It was still very, very small. So it hadn’t exactly blown up at that point. Probably one of the flashpoints for the brand was 1862, when they came and showed off at the International Exhibition in Britain for six months. I suppose about 6 million visitors there over that six-month period. Dr Siegert makes it famous, and from then the brand moved out to Trinidad and Tobago in 1875 to what was a British colony, that would have certainly cemented that relationship at that point, for sure. But one of the hangups of that coming together of Angostura and gin, people talked about stomach complaints. So the sailors got ahold of it. Legend has it, they drank it for seasickness. It also created this phrase that we were comfortable with. With the Martini, you’re thinking about how dry you’d like it — so how much vermouth you’re going to have in the dry Martini. And then with the Pink Gin you would ask “in or out.” So if you find an old-school bartender in New York or in London and you order a Pink Gin, those that know their stuff will ask you “in or out?” This is a throwback to whether you were an officer or a sailor, and officers were basically allowed as much as they liked. They would add it to their glass of gin, and they kept all the Angostura stored in their glass. The sailors didn’t have access to as much, so they would add it to their cup and swirl it around and then they tip out the excess into their buddy’s glass and on and on. So they would just put a coating of the bitters. So you either drank it in, which was a heavy amount of Angostura, or out, which was just a rinse and flicking the excess out.
T: Never heard that before. That’s fascinating.
S: The most Angostura-heavy version comes from the Malay Peninsula, where they have a drink that actually ended up on the menu at the Raffles Hotel [called] Gin Pahit, which translates simply as “bitter gin.” And that was a combination of gin and Angostura. But that ratio, the one on the Raffles Hotel, was three-to-one. So three parts gin to one part Angostura. So the story goes that a lot of the expats out there struggled with stomach aches from the cuisine and went very heavy on the Angostura Bitters to try and alleviate that.
T: Also Angostura is, correct if I’m wrong, 40-ish percent ABV. This is not like vermouth where we’re diluting with another alcohol, but that alcohol is a fortified wine. This is two spirits. Nothing else.
S: Yeah. We’ll get on to the technical side of production or making the drink in a bit. But it’s funny, we used to love getting stories, anecdotes, people popping into the Plymouth distillery, sending us letters and stuff because it’s such an old brand. There’s a lot of passion behind it, but there’s also some great stories and anecdotes we hear. And we had one letter about how their uncle or grandfather had been a captain in the British Royal Navy, and he had written that Pink Gin should just be Plymouth Gin navy-strength, obviously. So 57 percent gin, Angostura Bitters, room temperature, nothing else.
T: Historically accurate, I’m sure. But I mean, what’s that, a 36-hour flight with four layovers that you need to be having that one after? I’m not sure. Seems full-on for me.
S: It’s a great drink. I think the problem to the broader audience sometimes with these recipes is there is an association that these drinks knock your socks off. But drinks like Martinis for me are so dangerous because you sip them and they’re like, oh, that’s delicious. Yeah, that’s it. It should be a pleasure, easy to drink, and have all these amazing flavors. Essentially, this drink is like an old-school Martini where they always have bitters in them up until about the 1950s. It’s a really dry Martini, essentially, it’s an Old Fashioned without added sugar.
T: It’s how many people have a Martini these days when they just have gin stirred over ice and maybe a spray of vermouth in there.
S: Exactly. It fits in that world. And yeah, it has been lost to history somewhat.
T: So tell us about that and tell us about why, when we think about Angostura Bitters, we think about a lot of other base spirits? Gin definitely doesn’t come to mind first when perhaps it should. Where does that change happen? And yet, why does the Pink Gin fall out of favor?
S: Obviously, it’s linked with the British Royal Navy and so it seemed to be a drink of the everyman. And yet it did appear to change. My only guess is that the way it transferred was maybe into the officer’s clubs onshore. So this is how it went from one ship to shore, and therefore it was more limited to officers. It’s hard to tell exactly, but when you think about drinks in culture, writing and in film, what someone drinks is used to paint a picture of who someone is. Certainly from the ‘20s, ‘30s, when you look at literature and then film in that period, it was a shorthand way of saying someone was very much upper-middle class if they drank Pink Gin. It was also known as Pinker’s, which is outrageously British.
T: Talk about that extended pinky finger as well? It comes to mind straight away.
S: There’s a captain in a U.S. classic World War naval film who drinks Pink Gin. He’s all stern and grim-faced. Bond drinks in “Man with the Golden Gun.” It’s as British as fish and chips, really. Then we see the switch. A film called “Look Back With Anger” with Richard Burton in 1959. He’s a working-class man, and he falls in love and marries this upper-class woman. It’s a film all about the tension there between the class system in the U.K., in England and in Britain has always been very well defined. And it was really to show just how bad that could be. And in one scene when someone asks his wife for a drink, Richard Burton just snarls, “She’ll have a Pink Gin. That’s what she’s used to.” And it was a sign that she’s a snob, and that’s what she drinks. So it really was this definition of old-school Britishness, that old British reserve, and then you can see it in that film. There’s definitely a backlash. If you think of that period of time, it’s post-Second World War going into the ‘60s that was when the cocktail culture in the U.K. was dying off anyway. Drinks like the Martini, the Pink Gin, these great classic cocktails were really only surviving in the hotel bars and the private member’s club. That’s really been lost. The 60s, 70s, it was a different period and it wasn’t really about the classic cocktails we know and love today.
Mastering the Pink Gin’s Ingredients
T: Well, I think so many people are going to be listening now and just so interested to try this now after that incredible backstory you’ve given us there, so thank you for that. Now tell us about the ingredients. And OK, we’ve gone into the ingredients here already, right? I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a second because you told us already that you worked extensively with Plymouth gin before, and we know that this is a historically accurate gin to be using for this. What is it about Plymouth, particularly, that you believe works so well with Angostura in this cocktail?
S: The other great naval drink we think of is the Gimlet, and there is this historical reference. I think these drinks have become part of gin like lore can, and you can make it with any gin you like. It does work really well with Plymouth, though. Plymouth is sweet, it uses sweet orange peel, and although there’s no sugar in the gin, we taste it. It comes forward on the palate, and you detect the sweetness because of that sweet orange peel. Plymouth doesn’t have any of those really bitter botanicals. Juniper is sour and has a little bitterness, but it’s really a forward, middle-of-the-palate gin. So adding bitters really complements that really beautifully and brings that nice, bitter finish on it. You really get this roll of flavor all the way from the front of the palate all the way through. So it does work incredibly well in that sense, and I think the citrus notes along with the spicy notes of the bitters and the gin. And then if you like a twist on your Pink Gin, again, it just sits very well with this soft, citrus-style, slightly sweeter gin and then this nice, spicy, bitter finish on the back end. One of my biggest watch outs would be navy strength, which is fantastic. It’s exactly the same gin; it just simply has less water added to it before going into the bottle. It’s a higher strength, famously taken on board a ship by the British Royal Navy. You’ve got water on ship, you can carry less barrels of it if it’s higher strength. But again, navy strength is 57 percent, it’s incredibly strong. If you decide to stir it, I would always add water as well. I stir it because what happens with navy strength is that it gets so cold when you’re stirring it. And then the drink gets colder, so the rate of dilution starts to slow as you stir on. By the time you’re stirring and you’re tasting it — and it’s still really strong because it’s got so cold — the dilution is so slow, it doesn’t take you a bit longer. It takes forever to stir it down. So I would always recommend that if you are stirring that navy strength, add a splash of water. That would be it for anything with navy strength, whatever cocktail you’re making. Just beware.
How to Make the Pink Gin
T: Let’s talk about making it. You’ve spoken about stirring this drink. Talk us through how you do it. I’ve mentioned this on the show before, if I wanted it exceptionally dry, to stir my gin over ice first and then perhaps add my vermouth at the end. So what I mean by that is people have idiosyncrasies when it comes to stirring. They have their own techniques. Do you have any advice to share on that? And also, first of all, quantities of both products here, and then tell me about stirring.
S: Yeah, it’s. It’s such a simple drink, I think it’s been its strength and its weakness and maybe why it fell away because there aren’t necessarily these strict rules. You’ve got the naval officer saying it should be room temperature just added to a glass. You go into this bar, they’ll stir it. Go to another bar, they’ll just pour it over ice. In “The Savoy Cocktail Book,” they shake it.
T: Maybe they were just in the navy strength there?
S: I was going to say, you don’t shake a Martini. It’s only because it’s more difficult to maintain consistency every time of dilution. But I’m sure you’ve been to like some of these great steakhouses in the U.S. you order a dry Martini and it’s about pint of gin, and they make about 10,000 them a day and the guy shakes it and you get the whole shaker and are just like, “Oh my god, there’s a bottle of gin in this.” I’ve had loads that have been absolutely brilliant, because you don’t get a choice in how much vermouth. So he knows the strength of the alcohol going in, and he knows how long it needs to shake. He’s got a big wall of ice. The ice is the same temperature every time and actually, its consistency is pretty good. But what gin you’re using and how strong it is matters, and you do have to understand those subtleties of how much water you need to add to really get it to that perfect point. That’s, for me, why stirring is actually best, generally speaking, because you’re in an open vessel. You’re stirring with ice, and you can literally smell it. It’s not just about taste. The key indicator for me when I’m stirring a drink down is you just start to smell the aromas coming off. And for me, that’s my first indicator that this drink is getting to that point where I’m ready to serve it. You can tap a little straw and have a taste and you’re like, “OK, just give it a couple more seconds and we’re good to go.” So you’re seeing that drink evolve and come to life. That’s why I think we should think about watering cocktails, just bringing it to life. We’ve almost criminalized over-dilution so much that I think the two things no bartender ever wants to hear someone turn around to say, especially another bartender or drinks expert is like, “Oh, that’s delicious, a little sweet;” or, “That’s delicious, a little over-diluted.” It’s like a stake in the heart. And I think it’s kind of ended up making bartenders prefer to be a little undiluted. I’d rather be sour than too sweet because it seems like the biggest sin that we can actually offer. So for me, stirring is what gives you that access that allows you to get in there and really smell it. If you want to take gin straight out of the freezer, for example, to serve it straight into the glass over ice. But you’re going to really need to understand what gin you’ve got in the freezer and how much water to add. You know what that perfect dilution point is. And then you just add cold water, and you can maybe give a little stir.
T: But what’s your preference? This is a cocktail that you have explored a lot. What’s your preference in terms of quantities of gin and Angostura here?
S: A family measure, a friend’s measure of gin, I would say. You want a couple of ounces of gin. Then there’s just so many different ways of actually serving it. It’s been a big trend of people drinking gin and soda instead of gin and tonics. People are aware that there’s quite a lot of sugar in tonic and maybe I’ll have one or two and then maybe I’m going to switch off the tonic and onto gin and soda. And that’s actually been a lot of people I’ve got. It’s just a longer, sparkling version of Pink Gin. I like an orange twist with a nice highball. Do a 3-1 ratio, two ounces of the gin and then three times that of sparkling water. Nice big twist of orange. For the Angostura, harping back, that should be to taste. You know how far you want to take it. I always encourage people to add a little bit at first. One dash first, then have a taste. It depends on the gin. Something soft like Plymouth, it’s very easy to actually suddenly just be drinking a glass of Angostura. But just find what works for you.
T: Knowing that I am a Martini drinker, if I’m stirring this over ice, I’m finding my perfect shade of pink in the glass. I’m getting the aromatics. I’m thinking, “OK, I’m there.” If I’m serving this up, what am I serving it in? Am I going with a garnish for that? Or is that completely superfluous?
S: OK. I’d say exactly that. Like the Martini, the choice is yours. It’s lemon or orange, I would say are the two best twists to go with. And as you rightly said, I would normally add the bitters in with the gin and then the ice goes in, and then we’re going to stir that down together. There’s nothing wrong with that. If you wanted to adjust it and add the bitters afterward. I think everyone’s about Instagram and beautiful photographs. Watching Ango cascade through ice or diffuse into a cocktail, it’s beautiful. There’s some real beauty about the simplicity. Stir it down and serve it in Nick and Nora or whatever cocktail glass you like. It’s one of those weird drinks for me. It sort of works like the Martini as an aperitif — light, dry, beautiful pre-dinner. But then if you got a little heavier on the Angostura, it was actually a drink I would drink much later at night.
T: Digestif. Right?
S: Exactly, exactly. Because you got the Angostura, and you got a nice dry. I used to be a big fan of drinking it after dinner.
T: You’ve no idea how often I finish the meal and I want to have a Martini and I just can’t. And I don’t want to move onto a Manhattan. I’m just not a big fan.
S: You’re not ready yet.
T: I would normally go to a Sazerac, but now… Pink Gin.
S: It’s food for thought, isn’t it? Actually years ago I reinvented the Bitter Gin. Not quite the 3-1 ratio, but a very heavy few dashes of Angostura and then serve that over ice. It looked like an Old Fashioned with a slice of orange, but more like a Negroni. You get a little hint of sweetness from an orange slice garnish. It’s two ingredients, yet you can present it in this highball, super-light, refreshing, sat-by-the-pool, lunchtime-style drink. You can also stir it up and serve it pre-dinner, or add more Angostura, and serve it as a Sazerac, digestif-style drink. There are some brilliant gins out there, but people are spending a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of money searching for these amazing ingredients to go and put in their gin. A lot of the time, we then just gunsling it in a glass with tonic, lemon juice, etc. If you do really enjoy gin, just to have gin and some dilution to unlock it, plus a few dashes of bitters is a beautiful way to enjoy gin. I still really enjoy a very, very dry naked Martini just because I enjoy gin. I don’t like a garnish because the citrus oils are really strong. If you love gin, this is a great drink for you. Just go and see what this distiller is doing by finding these ingredients, and try it out. Try it out for what they’ve been doing, for this writing on the back of the label.
T: Pink Gin: It’s whatever you want it to be. The final thought from my end here on Pink Gin is that it’s a wonderful airplane cocktail. And I mean that in terms of I’m going to take on my carry-on a little bottle of Ango. I’m going to order some gin over some ice, and I’m just going to add it in myself there. That saves me taking vermouth onto the plane these days.
S: It has this tendency to sound a bit nerdy and a bit, “Oh, you’ve got to be a real booze nerd to enjoy this.” But actually, it’s a great drink that can be actually drunk anywhere, and you can just order gin on the rocks. Could I get a glass of water, please? You got any Angostura? And so it’s kind of like one of those in a cocktail environment, but you don’t want to just drink a beer or something like that and do fancy having something else. It always shocks me, the people that I hand this to and they ask, “What are you drinking?” And they go, “This is delicious, what is it?” I think its versatility has been its strength. But maybe it’s been its weakness because it’s not so clearly defined. Walking into a bar and ordering a Pink Gin — there isn’t that association. I think over here on the West Coast, it really never made it this far. On the East Coast and certainly in London, a lot of bartenders of an age would have an idea what it is. But it would be great to see it come back, whether it be in the long version or stirred and up. I think it’s a drink that has a huge amount to offer. For bartenders, it’s what we can make from just two very simple ingredients.
T: Yeah, and nonperishable as well. It could not be simpler.
S: Yeah, exactly.
T: Seb, thank you so much for that. That’s been absolutely wonderful. We’re going to now take it to the final section of the show, the “Desert Island Discs”-style finish here. I don’t get to say that with everyone, but a few people understand it. And we’re going to finish with our five stock questions. How’s that sound?
S: Sounds good.
Getting to Known Sebastian Hamilton-Mudge
T: So question No. 1 here for you. What style or category of spirit typically enjoys the most real estate behind your back bar?
S: See, my career in a lot of ways has been based around gin, but Irish whiskey.
T: Yeah? Nice.
S: Gin is next, and then maybe rum, but yeah, it’s a close tie, probably. I’m actually looking at my shelf now. It’s probably a close tie between gin and Irish whiskey.
T: An Incredibly exciting time for Irish whiskey at the moment.
S: My wife is also half Irish. Might have something to do.
T: Fair enough. Second question for you. Which ingredient or two do you think is the most undervalued in a bartender’s arsenal?
S: Yeah, I saw this, and I reckon this is a tool that we had in the couple of bars I used to have: chopsticks. They’re not bottles, but everyone should have a chopstick at their fingertips. They’re brilliant, really great for stirring. They’re great for shaping peels for when you want to make twists. When this one piece of ice is just in the wrong place, they’re great little poking sticks. It seems like such a useless, stupid thing. With Candra, we talk about making drinks at home where you don’t have to have a French press. It’s an amazing tool for making Martinis, by the way. You never get any chips or anything through, and stir it with a chopstick. I know it’s not technically a bartender kit, but every station had a silver chopstick in the kit just for stirring.
T: These are the answers that we love in this next segment of the show because there’s so many times we can hear jigger, as important as they are. Question No. 3: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve received in this industry?
S: It’s an interesting one. It’s not one person’s advice. It’s just been the collective of those around, and it’s about passion. Talking at the beginning about my early days, it wasn’t about the money. Obviously, down the line I believed I could turn this into a career and there’d be a way of making a living. But you’ve got to love it. It is a business, and we got to make money, and it is technical and it can be demanding and whatever. But it’s a fun industry to be in. So passion and enjoyment for me, because you can tell, whether it’s someone talking about a brand, someone behind the bar, talking about their cocktails, their food. You’ve got to love it, because if you don’t then no one believes you. Otherwise, find something else to do.
T: Something that makes you happy. If this doesn’t make you happy, don’t do it.
S: In terms of me giving advice on that, with a lot of people moving from, say, behind the bar and to brand roles, I was like, “Look, just maybe don’t jump at the first brand that offers you a corporate card. You want to be in love with that brand to be the epitome of it and be proud to be associated with that brand.” So I think whatever you do, I’ve learned from those around me, do the best and do it with passion and love what you’re doing.
T: Awesome. Love it. Question No. 4: If you could only visit one bar, one last bar in your life, which one would it be?
S: No, you can’t ask me that. I’ll be in trouble with so many people.
T: It can be a historical bar that doesn’t exist anymore, if that helps.
S: Oh, I really don’t know. It’s a tough one, isn’t it? Because I think the joy of bars is what mood you are in and where you are. And there’s just something wonderful about some of the old-school London hotel bars. And actually, New York, there’s a couple in L.A. as well, just that old-school, you got proper Paris shoes. That process of sitting at a bar and someone stirring a Martini down for you. I’m just as much a lover of being in a dive bar. I love dive bars. A pint of very crappy beer and a shot of Irish whiskey makes me very happy. But I guess push me. I got to be in a dimly lit hotel bar with a great bartender stirring me down a dry Martini. Yeah, that would be my choice. Such a cliché, but it’s one of those things that just sucks you in, isn’t it?
T: Absolutely. If you knew that the next cocktail you drank was going to be your last, what would you order or make?
S: I feel like it’s a Pink Gin, because otherwise it’s like, what’s this guy on about?
T: Just give me the bottle of gin and the bottle of Ango, and let me be on my way.
S: I’ll tell you what it would be. It would be in that ilk. It would either be gin and sherry. Or maybe something like a fino sherry. Or actually, depending on how I’m feeling, just gin and bitters stirred — whether it be Ango or other bitters. But something of that ilk: gin, stirred, up.
S: Maybe it’s just gin.
T: Final bonus here for you. Something I would like you to share with the world, if you’re willing to: the world’s best bar snack to have with a Martini that you definitely put me onto.
S: I told you about what I had in Japan by mistake? Yeah, very dry, it was Beefeater. So a big, bold, London-style dry Martini with a twist of lemon. I don’t normally like a twist on a Martini at all, but it had a twist of lemon. And then on the side, we’d ordered a rice cracker with mascarpone cheese on top and just a drizzle of honey. And that paired with the dry Martini just was amazing. There you go. That’s what I have. I hadn’t thought about that for a while. It’s such a phenomenal combination.
T: It’s the dry rice cracker, right? It’s not the sweet one?
S: Yes. Super clean, dry. It’s almost like a fat wash on your palate. It’s just amazing with that hint of sweetness.
T: Love it. Well, thank you so much.
S: Oh, wow. Yeah, I really went back there into my mind. That was great.
T: Well, Seb. Thank you so much for joining us today. I bet every single person is going to go out there right now and bring gin and Angostura together. You really sold it, so thank you so much.
S: Brilliant. Absolute pleasure.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.