Gimlets deliver a sweet punch

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A classic summer cocktail that I keep returning to is the gimlet. It is a cooling bracer that runs a tad sweet, but delivers a wonderful punch with a pleasing, tangy, refreshing bite.

Novelist Raymond Chandler famously offered his preferred recipe in the dialogue between Terry Lennox and detective Philip Marlowe in his 1953 novel “The Long Goodbye.” As Lennox makes clear: “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”


The 1:1 ratio between gin and Rose’s Lime Juice cordial is almost sickeningly sweet to my tastes, but when made right, the gimlet is simple, straightforward, pungent and remarkably satisfying.

Its origins are unclear. The first recorded mention of the gimlet that I am aware of is in the 1922 edition of “ABC of Mixing Cocktails” by Harry MacElhone’s, a famous European bartender of the period. MacElhone gives the same 1:1 recipe as Chandler puts in his novel. The influential “Savoy Cocktail Book,” published in 1930, offers the same recipe as well. It is almost certain, however, that the drink already had been around for decades.

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Rose’s Lime Juice cordial goes back even farther. Lachlan Rose of Leith, Scotland, patented his method of preserving citrus juice without alcohol in 1867. Then it caught the attention of the British government. The Royal Navy had mandated the use of lime juice on ships to fight scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.

This is how Brits eventually became known as limeys. Rather than use fresh limes, Rose’s Lime Cordial found its biggest early customer.


Rear Adm. Sir Thomas Gimlette, a medical officer, is often credited with mixing the daily lime juice ration with gin, thereby inventing the drink and lending it his name. This is a highly unlikely account, however, as Gimlette was only around 10 years old when Rose’s was first ordered aboard Navy ships.

Regardless of its history, the gimlet is an exception to the general rule that fresh fruit juice must always be used for a cocktail to taste good. Indeed, fresh lime juice would make the drink a gin rickey, rather than a gimlet — but the sweetness is definitely part of its defining characteristics.

As Philip Marlowe notes in the novel: “The bartender set the drink in front of me. With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look. I tasted it. It was both sweet and sharp at the same time.”

Here is my preferred version:

Ingredients
2 ounces of Plymouth Gin
¼ ounce of Rose’s Lime Juice

Directions
Add ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with hard cracked ice and shake until well chilled (12-15 seconds), strain into chilled cocktail (martini) glass or into an old-fashioned or rocks glass over ice.
If using the cocktail glass, first lightly coat the rim with sugar before filling, and then garnish with a twist of lime. If serving over ice, garnish with a lime wedge. For a touch of modern sensibility, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice before serving. L’chaim!

Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].

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