Nightly drink: The Gimlet, old and new

Gimlets, made with scrounged ingredients in Taiwan

I know that the Gimlet and the Rose’s Lime Juice vs. fresh juice and simple syrup argument have been written about many times before. However, I would like to briefly stir up the discourse once again.

A Brief History

The Gimlet is one of those old revered drinks with long naval traditions. The story of the Gimlet began with the Royal Navy, the Merchant Shipping Act and the invention of Rose’s Lime Juice. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1867 required all ships of the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy to provide a daily lime ration to sailors to prevent scurvy.

It just so happened that in that same year, Lauchlan Rose patented a method to preserve citrus juice without alcohol. Soon, his product became the ubiquitous Rose’s Lime Juice. The naval officers of the Royal Navy added their Rose’s Lime Juice to gin, creating the Gimlet. Enlisted sailors probably mixed Rose’s Lime Juice with their rum rations to make Grog.

Today, with the slow food movement and craft cocktail “renaissance”, it seems like everything has to be local and artisanal. The modern version of Rose’s with its high fructose corn syrup and food coloring-laden recipe just isn’t good enough anymore! Now, bartenders proud of their craft often prefer to use fresh lime juice and homemade simple syrup in lieu of the original neon-green flavoring.

The Traditional Gimlet

a real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else” – Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye.

Despite the current craft cocktail movement and the drink snobbery that comes with it (I am so guilty of this), many drink historians and bartenders still hold that the one and only true way to make a Gimlet is to use Rose’s Lime Juice and Gin. To some extent, I must agree with them because I hold history and lineage to high esteem.

I also understand that the use of Rose’s Lime Juice lends a strange, unique flavor that many purists seek for in their Gimlets. However, I also deem that it is too restrictive and narrow-minded to say that the old way is absolutely the only one true way. Drinks evolve all the time. Methods, proportions and various other aspects change over time to reflect current taste preferences and fashions.

Perhaps there could be a compromise of sorts. Perhaps the old way could be designated as the Original Gimlet, and the new fresh way could be designated as the Modern Gimlet…or something like that. In my opinion, whether you want to use fresh lime juice or Rose’s Lime Juice is a matter of personal taste and preference.

The Original Gimlet

Shake with ice. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel or lime wedge if you like (but back in the day, the Royal Navy sailors probably didn’t have fresh limes to spare, or even ice for that matter).

The Modern Gimlet

Despite my respect for the traditional Gimlet, I much prefer using fresh lime juice and simple syrup in mine. To me, the fresh lime juice gives the Gimlet a bright and refreshing bite of awesomeness! Also, as Kevin has already described, making your own simple syrup is extremely easy.

Properly made, the Gimlet is a pretty simple-minded, one dimensional drink, but one that does its job well! In the heat and humidity of summer, the Gimlet can cut through the thick of it all to quench your thirst and uplift your spirit!

Despite being a simple drink, there are still choices to be made in how you want to make yours. Questions you might ask yourself include: Do I use simple syrup (1:1) or rich simple syrup (2:1) or perhaps another sweetener? What proportions of sweet to sour should I use? There really isn’t any right answer. Once again, these choices really depend on personal taste and preference. Here’s how I like to make mine:

The Modern Gimlet

  • 1.5 oz. Gin (I like Beefeater and Tanqueray)
  • 0.75 oz. Lime Juice
  • 0.5 oz. Rich Simple Syrup

Shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish needed. Gulp it down in three swigs :D

Scrounging ingredients in Taiwan

So I’m back at home in Taipei right now, with no access to my bar, my glassware or my tools and equipment. Have no fear, for I can still make a Gimlet!

In anticipation, I had brought home my tiny back-up cobbler shaker as well as two jiggers (0.5 oz/0.75 oz; 1oz/2oz.). I bought a bottle of Beefeater Gin and some limes from the supermarket. I was able to juice the limes because my mom had a cumbersome, but still effective hand juicer.

I got some sugar from the kitchen. I probably should have made simple syrup, but I couldn’t find an empty bottle to hold it, so I decided to do it later. We have no cocktail glasses at home, but I found 2 medium-sized wine goblets. You can see in the picture below the array of materials I gathered.

scrounged gimlet materials

Scrounged Gimlet at Home (2 servings)

  • 3 oz. Beefeater Gin
  • 1.5 oz. Lime Juice
  • 3 spoons of White Sugar (~2 tsps?)

Shake with ice. Strain into wine goblets. Garnish with half lime wheel. Share with Mom.

Results: Mm, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. I really should have made simple syrup instead of just using the sugar directly. Even though I shook the drink extra hard and extra long, some of the sugar didn’t dissolve. This resulted in a very tart drink that had a small pile of sugar grains at the bottom. The texture of the drink was also a little bit off.

Despite some of the shortcomings, it was still quite a delicious drink. That’s the advantage of such a simple drink. Despite unfamiliar settings or tools and material, it is still easy to make a decent enough drink. The Gimlet is easy enough that navy sailors could make them out at sea!

Here’s a cool video of Kazuo Uyeda demonstrating his “Ginza Hardshake” by making a Gimlet.

How do you like your Gimlet? The traditional way with Rose’s Lime Juice or the contemporary way with fresh lime juice and simple syrup?

9 Comments

  1. Tom July 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm #

    It is popular to use Rose’s in a gimlet, but Rose’s is not required for a cocktail to be a gimlet. According to the OED the first reference in print to the gimlet is in 1928:

    OED quoting D.B. Wesson posted:
    The `Gimlet’ we were introduced to…at the Golf Club: and it proved to be the well and favorably known ricky, but described as `gin, a spot of lime, and soda’.

    There’s absolutely no evidence that a gimlet was invented with Rose’s—so we can’t argue for a `correct’ gimlet the way we can in theory argue for a `correct’ Caesar salad—and there’s no evidence that with Rose’s is the preferred form today. Pretty much the entire line of argument is predicated on Raymond Chandler having one of his characters opine that Rose’s and gin is a `real gimlet’ (in 1953).

    This is one of ye olde usage arguments, I’ve just given a quick summary of it (abstaining to bring in all the dog-won’t-hunt folk derivations, e.g. being an eponym for Dr Gimlette) and I’ll be frankly astonished if you can bring anything to the table that straightforwardly supports the Rose’s folk etymology.

    • Kevin July 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      Wow, that’s a great summary, Tom.

      The only evidence I could dig up comes from Eric Felten’s fantastic book How’s Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well. Apparently, Esquire’s 1949 Handbook for Hosts advocated that “a true Gimlet must be made with Rose’s bottled lime juice,”

      But Felten goes on to say modern tastes prefer less lime and more subtlety. His perfect proportions?

      - 2 oz gin
      - 1/2 oz Rose’s lime juice
      - 1/4 to 1/2 oz simple syrup (to taste)

      As Jimmy notes above, to each their own!

  2. JR July 24, 2012 at 2:58 am #

    I make my gimlets with homemade lime cordial: Using a MIcroplane, zest 12 limes, pour 24 oz. simple syrup over the zest, and after about 15 minutes strain. 3/4 oz. lime cordial, 3/4 oz. fresh lime juice, and 2 oz. gin (blanco tequila is also great), shake the crap out of it. Delicious.

    • Kevin July 26, 2012 at 11:26 am #

      @JR that sounds *really* good and I just happen to have a large bag of limes in my fridge… thanks for the tip!

  3. Jimmy Khaw July 27, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Tom: Thanks for the insightful summary! I suppose I am one among the many to have been misled by clever marketing. At least the popular version of “history” makes for an interesting story, regardless of how accurate it is.

    JR: Oh wow, that sounds quite amazing! It reminds me of an article from the 12 Bottle Bar blog I read a while back: http://12bottlebar.com/2010/10/the-chronicles-of-gimlet-part-one/

  4. Rafa March 14, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    I like to use Toby Cecchini’s “raw” lime cordial as a template for building my own: http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/case-study-building-a-better-mixer/

    Basically, you make a syrup of equal parts lime juice and sugar, in which you steep the zest of the juiced limes overnight and then strain. Peeling all those limes is a bit of a pain, but the flavor is phenomenal: a candied, hyper-vivid wallop of lime-ness that’s like a Platonic ideal of lime flavor. It’s a fun recipe to play with, too; Cecchini adds ginger, which is a great, falernum-ish choice, but hot peppers can add similar bite. If you mix this lime cordial with some overproof rum (say JWray & Nephew) in which you’ve steeped more lime peel you have something that’s probably closer to the original, alcoholic Rose’s. Malic acid might be a fun addition too. Really worth a shot if you haven’t tried it.

  5. Rafa March 14, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

    A dream project of mine is to make the alcoholic cordial I described above and mix it with a home-infused rum-based Caribbean-spiced gin (allspice and black pepper and clove and cane in addition to the juniper) for a spicy, tropical, custom Gimlet.

  6. Kevin March 14, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    If you ever get a chance, out of all the essential oils I’ve played with, I think lime oil is some of the most interesting stuff. Essential oils can get really intense, but I find that i like really intense lime flavor. Just throwing it out there :-)

    I didn’t know about an original alcoholic Rose’s – very cool

  7. David December 1, 2013 at 10:43 pm #

    50/50 freezer-vodka and fresh-squeezed lime juice – plus a splash of spring water

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