How to cool off a fried brain



Sauvignon blanc is one of our favorite warm weather wines. It is produced around the winemaking world in a number of different styles ranging from dry to very sweet dessert wines. The bright flavors and balanced acidity typical of well-made dry, nonsweet versions of sauvignon blancs pair well with lighter summer fare, including cheeses, salads and even sushi; It makes for delightful backyard deck or picnic sipping.

The varietal is thought to have originated in France’s Bordeaux region, and it is widely supposed that it gets its name from the word “sauvage” (wild) and blanc (white) from its early life as an indigenous varietal in the southwest of France. More recently, the grape has flourished and gained a great deal of popularity in New Zealand. Sauvignon blanc’s profile ranges from grassy and herbaceous when grown in warmer climates to gooseberry, melon, citrus and tropical fruits when the vines are in cooler locations. The wines are most often fermented in stainless steel tanks as this is thought to maximize the natural aromas and flavors of the grape, although there are some winemakers who introduce a little oak influence as well. And some winemakers choose to blend in some other grape varietals, such as semillion, to create a fuller body. Sauvignon blanc is typically best served chilled and very young, although there are some examples that do improve with age.

A wine worth opening to enjoy during the hot summer months along with a simple salad or a lightly grilled fish dish is the kosher Tishbi Sauvignon Blanc 2012. It opens with floral, citrus and a smidgeon of grassy aromas that lead into bright melon and tart lemon and grapefruit flavors.

The Tishbi family’s involvement in Israeli winemaking began in 1882 when Michael Chamiletzki was selected by Baron Edmond de Rothschild to grow grapes in Zichron Yaakov. In 1925 the family name was changed to Tishbi and in 1984 Jonathan Tishbi established the Tishbi Estate Winery in the foothills of the Carmel Mountains.

Spirits-wise, we thought we’d shake it up a bit. In summer, the humidity and heat can be quite stifling. What the body needs in such climes is a periodic cooling bracer. A martini or a Manhattan is a little too nuanced, a little too sophisticated to get the job done. When the heat has fried the brain, and the humidity has saturated the soul, the body needs an elemental libation that is fairly uncomplicated to mix — potent, but not too strong, slightly sweet, but with a pleasing, tangy bite that reawakens the senses. What is needed is a gimlet.

A simple concoction of white or clear spirit (traditionally gin) and lime juice (traditionally Rose’s Lime Juice), with a history dating back at least to the mid-19th century, the gimlet is a delicious and enduring classic. As Raymond Chandler puts in his novel 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 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.’ ”

While we might argue that last point, and the proportions mentioned are far sweeter than modern sensibilities, the tone is exactly right. The gimlet is simple, straightforward, pungent, and remarkably satisfying. Indeed, the gimlet is commonly thought of as “the king of the rail drinks” in the American bar scene because it is so simple to make that even the most timid and unimaginative bartenders are convinced they can do it no discernible harm. Although the exact history is a little uncertain, virtually everyone seems to agree that the British Royal Navy created the drink in the early-to-mid 19th century.

Great Britain mandated daily rations of lime juice to every sailor in its merchant fleet in an attempt to fight scurvy (a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency). Originally the anti-scorbutic of the British Royal Navy was lemon juice purchased from the Mediterranean, but the English lime growers in the West Indies lobbied strenuously to make the substitution.

This is how Brits eventually became known as “limeys.” The other unintended consequence of this political switch was that scurvy outbreaks continued well into the 20th century because limes only contain about one-quarter of the anti-scorbutic properties of lemons (although this was not known at the time). Such is politics.

The gimlet is one of those rare exceptions to the general rule that fresh fruit juice must always be used for the cocktail to taste any good. Fresh lime juice is too tart, and adding sugar doesn’t quite cut it right. In this matter, Chandler’s Philip Marlowe is a sound guide: “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.” Exactly so.

Here, then, is a classic “gimlet”:

Stir or shake two ounces of Plymouth Gin (regular London dry gin will work if you can’t find the more traditional stuff) and one-quarter an ounce of Rose’s Lime Juice with cracked ice. As noted above, the original recipe actually called for a sweeter 1-to-1 ratio, there are some modern recipes calling for a 5-to-1 ratio — be guided by your own tastes.

So whatever your ratio, be certain to mix or shake very well so that everything is very cold.

Strain the contents into a prechilled martini glass or into a prechilled old-fashioned or highball glass with ice. If using the martini glass, garnish with a twist of lime and — if you can be bothered to fuss — coat the rim with sugar; if serving over ice, garnish with a lime wedge. For a touch of modern sensibility, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

For a vodka gimlet, simply switch out the gin with vodka. Or, for the pulp novel-minded, you can follow the rough and ready recipe that novelist Stuart Woods offers through his multinovel character Stone Barrington (this version from Shoot Him If He Runs): “Pour six ounces out of a fifth of vodka, replace it with Rose’s sweetened lime juice, and put it in the freezer until it hurts to hold the bottle. If you make it in a cocktail shaker, you just water it down.” Elsewhere Woods is clear that “you may use even the cheapest vodka, and no one will ever know.”

Probably true — but we’ll stick with gin. Chandler is by far the superior pulp-fiction novelist anyway.

So sit back, relax, and chill out with a classic gimlet. Consider a little ambiance by thumbing through a copy of The Long Goodbye. L’Chaim!

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