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Gin Classics: The Gimlet

The Gimlet. The perfectly uncomplicated, underappreciated gin classic with a history far more complex than the simplicity of the cocktail would suggest. In recent years it seems the daiquiri—nothing more than a rum gimlet—has become the bartender’s handshake. But we would like to lobby for the resurgence of the gimlet, a cocktail that not only lets a gin as rich as Brockmans truly shine, but also one with a great story to tell—depending, of course, on if you believe it.

A gimlet at Explorateur in Boston, Massachusetts.

Way back in 1867, the British government passed the Merchant Shipping Act, which required that every sailor in the British navy get a daily ration of lime juice to combat scurvy. Now, we know that the Brits have a penchant for mixing their medicine with gin (gin and tonic, anyone?) so unsurprisingly, sailors began taking their daily ration with a side of gin. The story goes, a military surgeon named Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette endorsed such a combination, granting legitimacy to the mixture as well as, perhaps, its name. The Gimlet was born.

Around the same time, a Scottish entrepreneur named Lochlan Rose patented the world’s first fruit concentrate, Rose’s Lime Cordial. If the name sounds at all familiar, it is the same Rose’s Lime Juice that may be gathering dust in your local supermarket’s drink mixers section, the infamous “fake” lime juice that no self-respecting bartender would touch with a ten-foot pole. But back when scurvy was a real threat the Cordial was just lime juice and sugar, nothing fake about it.

The “Black Widow” at Better Days in Miami is a riff on a gimlet with the addition of creme de violette as a modifier and a basil leaf garnish.

The first written iteration of the Gimlet shows up in 1922, in the oft-referenced Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails by Harry MacElhone of the still-standing Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. (If the name is familiar to you, we travelled here when tracing the history of the French 75.) In this recipe, Harry calls for equal parts gin and Rose’s Lime Cordial, and it is because of this that many cocktail historians swear by this original recipe, even today.

That said, Rose’s Lime Juice isn’t today what it used to be, and most bartenders see it as a relic of a time when bars weren’t using fresh juices or syrups. The intrepid bartenders might make their own lime cordial, which involves cooking lime juice with sugar and lime zest. Alternatively, the common recipe for the gimlet is as follows:

  • 2 oz/60 ml gin (Brockmans, of course)
  • 1 oz/30 ml lime juice
  • 1 oz/30 ml simple syrup
The Rosy Glow, from the Brockmans Gin cocktail collection, starts with a gimlet base but adds grapefruit juice, cherry liqueur, and cinnamon syrup.

Some play with the amounts, but the ratio is pretty much the same: 2-1-1. But since this is a time-tested classic, as we know from others, it is a beautiful recipe to riff on. Muddle cucumber before you add any ingredients and it becomes a South Side. Muddle cucumber and mint and it becomes an East Side. Serve it in a highball topped with seltzer and it becomes a Rickey. The options are almost endless—muddle fruit and/or herbs, switch out the simple syrup for any herb/fruit/spiced syrup, knock down the amount of gin and add a lower-ABV modifier like a fruit liqueur or an amaro. Just make sure, as you do all of this, that you keep in mind the botanicals in the gin—they’re there to help you. Now get out there and make yourself a gimlet.