Next in our Around the World in 50 Classic Cocktails series, another deliciously limey serve: the Gimlet.
We began our sipping explorations with the Gin Rickey – long, refreshing, and dry – and its slightly sweeter cousin, the Tom Collins. And for those tipplers who can’t get enough of the gin-meets-lime school of cocktails, we present another classic: the Gimlet. Short, served varyingly straight up or on the rocks, and unapologetically sweet, its history goes all the way back to the Royal Navy…and scurvy.
Scurvy might not be a disease that many of us think about today, but historically, it was nothing short of a scourge, killing large numbers of sailors every year. For a long time, the disease was also frighteningly mysterious. It was only attributed to a lack of Vitamin C in the 18th century, but without refrigeration on-board ships, keeping fresh citrus on hand for weeks was difficult. Fruit juices were often preserved with alcohol or even olive oil.
That’s where Rose’s Lime Juice comes in. The cordial was invented back in 1867 by Lauchlan Rose, who found a way to preserve citrus juice with sugar instead, resulting in a more versatile product. It quickly found its way aboard naval ships – and in the alcohol that men were paid in – as a result. As for its name? There’s some debate about that, with attributions suggesting it was either named for one Sir Gimlette, a naval doctor, or for a small tool used to tap barrels of booze on-board.
And while the Gimlet appeared in various cocktail tomes in the early 20th century, its reputation was truly sealed by one Raymond Chandler, who wrote about it in his 1953 work, The Long Goodbye:
“We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”
From there, the drink earned its place in the pantheon of popular mid-century drinks, and was regularly swilled by ad men types.
Because of its historic reliance on Rose’s Lime Juice, the Gimlet fell out of favour once the craft cocktail revolution swept in, thanks to the movement’s emphasis on fresh citrus, housemade ingredients, and drinks low on sugar. But nowadays, drinkers are rediscovering this classic, whether with a throwback slosh of Rose’s or exclusively fresh juice.
In honour of Raymond Chandler, and of this cocktail’s naval history, we’re offering a (relatively) classic take on the Gimlet here, which does use the original Rose’s Lime Juice (note that only the Rose’s sold in the UK is still made with sugar, while other versions use high-fructose corn syrup). Once upon a time, the drink’s ratios were as sweet as 1:1 gin to cordial (as in that Chandler excerpt), but contemporary palates favour a drier version. We’ve lightened things up here by replacing the full measure of Rose’s with half-cordial, half-freshly-squeezed lime juice. (If you’d like to try a version that trades cordial for real juice and simple syrup, you can also try our wonderfully fresh Sipsmith Gimlet).
Adapted from David Wondrich
10ml Rose’s Lime Juice
10ml freshly squeezed lime juice
Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with very cold ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled Martini glass (or in a rocks glass filled with cracked ice, if you prefer).