November 18th, 2008

Plymouth Rocks

Simon Ford, Plymouth Gin-Eastern Standard dinnerThis is the time of year when every culinary scribe in the nation chips in to solve a seemingly widespread problem: What to Drink with Thanksgiving Dinner. Wine writers have made pinot noir a standard tipple to pair with turkey and stuffing. Beer writers are making inroads with the argument that, actually, craft brews offer way more variety for Thanksgiving pairings than wine. Historical purists would advocate drinking water, as that is likely all the Pilgrims had on hand during their 1621 feast with the Wampanoag Indians. I don’t know if hosts are really in as much agony over what to serve with gravy-soaked root vegetables as they’re made out to be, but if they are, I have an easy answer: Plymouth Gin.

Unlike, say, wine, Plymouth Gin actually has a connection to the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower set sail from the original Plymouth, in England. Not only that, the night before they left for the New World, the Pilgrim Fathers lodged in a former monastery dating from the 1400s that is today known as Black Friars Distillery, a.k.a. the producer of Plymouth Gin. The ship that appears on the gin’s label? Yep, it’s the Mayflower.

Coriander venison chop Eastern StandardI learned all this on a little junket I attended recently: a dinner in Eastern Standard‘s private dining room with Plymouth’s brand ambassador, British drinks expert Simon Ford. (For the record, I was a devotée of this crisp, balanced gin before the company plied me with product.) This was a multi-course Thanksgiving of sorts that paired Plymouth Gin-based cocktails with dishes that featured some of the botanicals used in distilling the spirit. Kevin Martin led the Eastern Standard bar staff in mixing up French 75s, Alaskas and Gin Flips, among others. Dishes included a coriander-crusted venison chop, rabbit terrine with juniper berries, and cardamom tapioca pudding. And, believe it or not, before dinner we were given a steamed towel scented with orris root. Fancy!

Kevin Martin, Eastern Standard-Plymouth Gin dinnerReps from the Pernod Ricard company, which owns the Plymouth brand, informed me that Boston is a hot market for this gin. Given that every bar doing classic cocktails stocks the stuff (thanks largely to the pioneering B-Side Lounge), I’m not surprised.

Fun facts about Plymouth gin:

  • Not long after it was first distilled in 1793, Plymouth Gin became the official gin of the British Royal Navy. And because the navy shipped it everywhere, it became one of the first global brands.
  • Black Friars Distillery is the oldest working distillery in England, with records of spirit-making dating to the 1600s.
  • Like Scotch whiskey and Cheddar cheese, Plymouth Gin has its own appellation contrôlée, which means the spirit can only be distilled in Plymouth.
  • The pot still in which every drop of Plymouth Gin is made was installed in 1850.
  • In 1896 the first printed recipe for a Dry Martini, in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, specified Plymouth Gin.

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19 Responses to “Plymouth Rocks”

  1. Arnold

    A question for you and your readers who may be knowledgeable in the black arts of the spirit business: is it standard practice to introduce a new product on the market at a low price point, and once established, dramatically raise the price? (In regards to buying a bottle in the liquor store, not ordering a cocktail at a bar).

    I ask because of the difference in this area between the introduction of Plymouth to, say, Hendrick’s. On one hand, Hendrick’s has been on the pricier side since its introduction–around $30 or more. Plymouth, on the other hand, started out retailing for about $19 or $20 soon after it began appearing in bars around town–making it an incredible bargain. Several months after it became THE gin (and I say that as a fan), its price now averages $30. Not so much the bargain.

    That is quite a mark up. Is that what happens with other spirits as well that become popular? I just haven’t noticed such a jump before, and it can’t be attributed to general economic conditions (say a rise in the cost of transportation) since other spirits have not seen a similar rise in price.

    Just curious (while slightly disappointed).

  2. MC Slim JB

    I’m a big Plymouth fan, too, and equally horrified by its new positioning as a super-premium. I don’t even like the new packaging as much. Phooey. I am told that some retailers haven’t started gouging on it like this ($30 and up for 750ml), but I imagine that might be old stock.

  3. ljclark

    Eek, I wasn’t aware of that markup, to tell the truth. The last bottle I bought was in NH and was reasonably priced, but that must’ve been a while ago. Yes, part of the appeal of Plymouth for me was its value. I don’t know if anyone who works for the brand will be forthcoming with an explanation, but we’ll see.

  4. Nick

    Plymouth Gin is now $30 per 750ml bottle in Washington state. Of course, that includes nearly $7.50 in taxes.

    By comparison, equal size bottles of:

    Aviation Gin = $28
    Broker’s = $19
    Tanqueray = $23
    Tanqueray No 10 = $32

    I’m equally disappointed by the price hike, and this takes Plymouth off my shopping list. I’m likely to go back to Broker’s, which I think is quite good for the price.

  5. Jonathan

    The whole Plymouth Gin thing has been gnawing at me — so many recipes I want to try specifically call for it — but if I buy it something else in my cabinet has to go — I am just that out of space — but certainly this post was about to be the tipping point until I read all the eggregious pricing comments — so now I am just going back to be confused — unless — I’d love to hear from readers if they would recommend one indisposable recipe from their repertoire for which no other gin would do.

  6. Arnold


    If I can be so bold (and please, any professional or more experienced mixologists (though how can we tell in blog comments) chime in), what recipes would call specifically, and only, for Plymouth?

    I could be wrong, but Plymouth seemed a great example of the London dry gin style that was priced “to move.” Now that its trying to price itself in the premium category, I’m sure there are other London dry gins that could be substituted in its place.

    A Hendricks or other gin with very particular–and not “classic”–taste characteristics (cucumber in this case) would be harder to replace in recipes that would designed around those particular brands and flavors.

    But I think when it falls in a more general category of “outstanding representative of a classic style in an affordable price range,” you should be able to find a replacement with perhaps lower performance metrics but similar price metrics.

  7. Scortch

    I’ve seen much about the pricing of Plymouth and yes, I have seen it for $30 and even $38 in one shop. Still, most of the Boston area locations I shop at have it at $21-22 a bottle. I’m not quite sure if everyone here gets out to the ‘burbs (and by ” ‘burbs” I mean all of Watertown), but that’s probably what price point I see most frequently. Up until just about a month ago Marty’s had it for about $16-17, as did Blanchard’s. Yes I expect to see it climb a bit as with all import booze, but I have yet to consider the $30 tag an across the board increase by any stretch of the imagination!

    That said, I did stocked up on the $16-17 bottles a while back, anticipating the possibility…

  8. k.

    Arnold – The Pink Gin pretty much requires Plymouth. It could be made with something else, but if I’d ordered one out I would expect to be asked if a substitution was all right. I’d probably skip the PG and go for something else if it wasn’t available, although Millers isn’t too bad, particularly if 1/2 the Angostura is replaced with Fee’s orange (still, that’s hardly a real Pink Gin).

    Incidentally, when I order a PG out it’s usually because I’m not intending to drink too much. The PG scores in two ways here: warm gin isn’t the easiest bevvie ever to drink, so the rate of intake is moderate; second, it it starts out warm it can’t warm up: perfect for pre-dinner mingling at corporate events and all that.

    Sorry to wax on, it’s certainly in my favorite five drinks (never mind that the LUPEC’r with the moniker “Pink Gin” is my favorite in that merry band of drinking broads as well).

    More on track: a few years back Marty’s was selling Plymouth for $9.99. I remember the first time I’d found it there for that price I bought it all, just in case someone clocked on that it must have been a misprinted price tag. Alas, it was restocked at the same price the following week. Still, while $23 (Blanchard’s in JP) isn’t as good as $10, it’s still cheaper than so-called premium vodkas.

  9. ljclark

    Boy, do I learn a lot from you people. This pricing info is really helpful.

  10. Arnold


    Most of the recipes I’ve seen for Pink Gin call for it to be chilled. I suppose if you like to kick it “old royal navy style” when ice was probably not available on ships, please rock that empire. But I have to agree that as much as I like gin, drinking it warm doesn’t have much of an appeal.

    What would be very interesting to learn is what market share Plymouth actually had over the course of the 19th century. They may have been the official Royal Navy gin, but does that mean it ruled the mainland as well? In addition, if distillation began in the late 18th century while dry gins came into vogue during the mid to late 19th century, how did their recipe change?

    All by way of saying that I’m sure many a fine English gentleman drank a Pink Gin that didn’t use Plymouth–so I wouldn’t hold a bartender to that standard.

  11. MC Slim JB

    In my mind, Plymouth may be English, but it’s not a London Dry style at all; the juniper note is much, much subtler, which is why it’s such a great cocktail mixer. I use it when I’m trying to lull my self-styled gin-hating friends into liking gin cocktails. An Aviation made with Plymouth is quite different from one made with my London Dry standbys like Bombay Dry Gin (note, not Sapphire, of which I’m not a fan) or Beefeater’s.

  12. ljclark

    Actually, MC Slim, Simon Ford concedes that Plymouth is in the London dry family, although as more of a cousin than a sibling.

  13. Arnold

    All nitpicking about history and nomenclature aside (said by someone who was leading the nitpicking), I hope you don’t mind me hijacking this threat to pursue a point raised by MC: how does one go about getting gin-averse friends to give it a try?

    Everyone has their own personal tastes, and many will never enjoy gin. But I find I meet many people who had the proverbial bad experience in college and won’t try an Aviation or other gin-based cocktail, but are happy to order a dirty vodka martini or something similar. Any suggestions for other gin-based cocktails to suggest for such a crowd?

  14. ljclark

    Yes. Make them an Aviation and don’t tell them what it is. A Vesper is a good one to sneak in there, too. Also, make them a cocktail with Hendricks. It’s a good gateway gin for vodka drinkers.

  15. Andrea

    re: gin haters

    The Pegu Club was the gateway gin cocktail for my formerly-gin-hating boyfriend. His preferred recipe for it: “1 1/2 oz gin (often Bombay), 1/2 oz Cointreau, 1/2 oz lime juice, and a dash of Angostura; shake until painfully cold. With this ratio, the citrus and the bitters mix to make the cocktail taste like grapefruit juice.”

    I’d also suggest substituting in some Old Tom gin for some classic cocktails – though I know that’s cheating a bit. Baby steps, as they say.

  16. Jonathan

    Thanks for the recommendation on the Pink Gin — I think I haven’t made it because of the lack of Plymouth. My favorite gin hater drink is the Tod’s Cooler:

    2 oz Gin
    2/3 Creme de Cassis
    2/3 Lemon juice

    Add first three to tall glass with ice, stir to mix, top with the soda

    Awesome summer time drink with a punch too

  17. Arnold

    Okay, I can’t resist. Regarding the earlier comments that echo: “I think I haven’t made it because of the lack of Plymouth.”

    From what I’ve read, Pink Gin started out as a way to imbibe Angostura bitters, which at the time was considered a way to treat upset stomach as well as other ailments. So adding it to gin (which may have been Plymouth at the time, due to its lock on the navy market–sort of like certain defense contractors today) was a way to make it more palatable–as opposed to a particular marriage of tastes in the ingredients.

    So this insistence on Plymouth in a Pink Gin is either a chance of fate (assuming Plymouth was the most popular gin at the time) or in taste of the particular drinker. It might have very well been an other company that was awarded the navy contract (and perhaps would be long out of business) if not for some secret back room dealing that gave Plymouth the Royal Navy contract, and Pink Gin would not be associated with that particular gin.

    So I would argue that the drink should be had with the gin of choice of the drinker–Plymouth, Hendrick’s, Bombay, Beefeater, New Amsterdam, Martin’s, etc…

  18. k.


    Make the Pink Gin with any gin you like: nobody (but but the drinker) cares. You asked if there was a recipe that called for Plymouth specifically and there is, at least by convention.

    But good lord what a silly disagreement. I’d be one thing if someone came back with “I prefer mine with Beefeater” but to come back with “I can’t find that in a book” sucks the fun right out of drinking and the discussion thereof, at least for me.

  19. p. gin

    aw, all this attention on little ol’ me… how flattering!

    first, i love the thanksgiving idea!

    second, yes, it’s plymouth by tradition and variations are of course part of the game. the link between plymouth and the pink gin is well documented and discussed and practiced. a bartender that doesn’t ask “what’s that?” will tend to reach for plymouth and will serve it up. yum. and i do occasionally drink the miller’s variation (described above by k. – was that jg’s recipe?) which is lovely. i tried one with new amsterdam the other day and didn’t find that it had the character i like. warm is what i reach for to cure a cold (either kind). etc.

    of course you can call any other gin you like. and you can bemoan liquor deals and branding, but then you’d be distilling in your bathtub because the two go hand in hand. let me know if you hit on some good recipes…

    p. gin

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