The gimlet, a Prohibition-era cocktail that’s now considered a staple of any bartender’s repertoire, typically contains gin, lime juice, and simple syrup. However, like most classic cocktails, this drink benefits from a bit of creativity and an open-minded attitude. The Manual surveyed a group of bartenders to find out what they consider their go-to spirits for gimlets, and while the list includes plenty of gimlet-perfect gins, you’ll also find some spirit suggestions that diverge from the expected gimlet path (in the best possible way, of course).
Since Plymouth is a top-selling gin from the U.K.k,, it’s easy to assume that it’s made in the London Dry style. However, Plymouth represents a gin style that’s wholly singular to its namesake distillery, and it’s characterized by powerful notes of citrus and a spicy kick from the botanicals. Head mixologist Suyash Pande of BAAR BAAR in New York City tells us that “I think that Plymouth Gin is the best gin for a gimlet. The slightly less dry character makes for a great mix with the sweetened lime juice. The earthy finish and highlighted juniper also adds a lot of character to the classic cocktail. Plymouth Gin was also the original choice for the cocktail when it was mixed with Rose’s Lime Cordial and served [according to the description written in the Savoy Cocktail Book in 1930].”
We previously gave Drumshanbo Gunpowder a shout-out in our compilation of the best Irish spirits on the market (that aren’t whiskies), so we weren’t too surprised to see this Emerald Isle gin cited as a superior base for gimlets. According to beverage director Patricia Grimm of The 404 Kitchen, Gertie’s Whiskey Bar, and Adele’s in Nashville, Tennessee, “One of my favorite gins right now is Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin. It’s made with [Eastern] botanicals and gunpowder tea, and it gives the classic gimlet a slightly smoky flavor that plays beautifully with the zippy acidity of the lime juice.”
Citrus-forward gins fit into a gimlet (already a citrus-dominant cocktail) with particular ease, and that’s why mixologist Ali Pereira of Waterbar in San Diego, California prefers Damrak Gin from Holland. “When you’re making a drink that’s both simple and refreshing, like a gimlet, you want to be sure you’re using a gin with crisp and clean palate notes – like citrus. I feel the best option to achieve this perfect flavor profile is Damrak Gin,” says Pereira.
American gins easily stand shoulder to shoulder with their European counterparts where quality is concerned, and one of the finest examples of a world-class U.S. gin comes from Brooklyn, New York, which Greenhook Ginsmiths calls home. Partner Jess Goldfarb of Due West in New York City always reaches for Greenhook Gin when making a gimlet, explaining that “it’s a really bold gin, with botanical and citrus notes that allow what could be a relatively simple cocktail to really pop. At Due West, we have a variation on the gimlet, The Green Witch, that uses Greenhook Ginsmiths as the base, with Giffard Pamplemousse, saffron, lime juice, a bit of absinthe, and a toasted rosemary sprig. Together with the aromatics from Greenhook Ginsmiths, the ingredients make for a really multidimensional cocktail.”
Treaty Oak, an acclaimed distillery located in the Hill Country of Central Texas that’s famous for its whiskey, also operates a sister brand known as Waterloo Gin, and they apply the same standards of excellence to their clear spirits as they do to their brown ones. Bartender Tim Hagney of ABV in San Francisco, California singles out Waterloo Old Yaupon Gin as an especially strong gimlet choice, stating that “I love using Waterloo Old Yaupon in gimlets because it has unique botanicals like makrut lime and yaupon holly. There’s enough going on in the bottle that you can make a standard gimlet, but it tastes much more elevated. It brings something different to this classic (and delicious) cocktail.”
Rather than building his gimlets around a single liquor, General manager Abe Vucekovich of The Violet Hour in Chicago, Illinois opts for “a split-base gimlet, specifically made with equal parts O.P. Anderson Aquavit and St. George Terroir Gin.”
He prefers those specific bottles because “The Violet Hour is known for our gimlet riff, the Juliet & Romeo. It’s been on the menu for over 13 years, so needless to say, as bartenders tend to, we get bored quickly and have tried any and every kind of gimlet we can. The O.P. Anderson and St. George Terroir split-base gimlet is one of my favorites, [because it] makes for a robust yet refreshing cocktail. Neither spirit is shy, to say the least. O.P. Anderson, as aquavits go, is not ‘too much’ and has a balance of caraway and fennel. St. George Terroir Gin is like a wonderful stroll through the Wild Northwest. If you make a gimlet with the two and you close your eyes, it’s like you’re taking a walk through the majestic redwoods while eating some pickled herring with a crisp, cooling ocean breeze at your back.”
Legendary NYC cocktail wizard Naren Young (whose leadership earned Dante a spot atop the World’s 50 Best Bars list and who now runs the beverage program at The Orchard Townhouse) tells The Manual that, “I love the unusual complexity that genever brings to drinks. It has those botanical aromatics that we bartenders love, combined with the sweet maltiness and richness of a whiskey. Together, these make for an amazing base spirit that can be inserted into a wide variety of classic drinks, including the gimlet. While there are increasing numbers of very good genever producers and products in the market, my go-to is still Bols’ Original, which re-introduced genever to America about 10 years ago. Genever was very big in the golden age of the American cocktail, but WWII and Prohibition essentially knocked it out of the market. I’ve been happy to see it making a slow but steady comeback.”
Full disclosure time: When the writer of this article first started drinking gimlets (at a tender age that may or may not have been under 21), she always went for vodka versions, and she’d order a “vodka gimlet, straight up, with a twist” in an effort to impress bartenders who might have kicked her out if she tried to ask for a Long Island Iced Tea or a Cosmo instead. This youthful habit later led her to assume that vodka gimlets were lesser versions of their gin counterparts…but bar manager Thomas LaCloche of Dom Demarco’s in Las Vegas, Nevada is here to assure us all that vodka gimlets can and should appeal to seasoned drinkers as well as to cocktail neophytes. He especially enjoys Vegas Baby Vodka in gimlets, explaining that “the gimlet is a very simple cocktail that usually only contains three ingredients – and, in that case, it’s important to use a delicious spirit that everyone will love. My go-to gimlet spirit is Vegas Baby Vodka because the vodka has a smooth finish that’s complemented by the sweetness of a gimlet.”
Tequila? In a gimlet? As double-take-worthy as this concept might seem at first, when you consider the symbiotic relationship between agave spirits and lime juice, then it suddenly becomes a very reasonable proposition. Bartender Jack Nic Uaid of Jackdaw in New York City goes with a YaVe Blanco Tequila for his tequila gimlets: “A tequila gimlet swaps out gin for ‘tequila and a squeeze of lime,’ for all the tequila lovers out there. I like using tequila instead of the usual gin [in a] gimlet because it still makes a fantastic-tasting drink, but the tequila has a different personality. [In YaVe Blanco Tequila, which uses a blend of highland and lowland tequila] you can really taste unique flavors based on where the agave is grown. The highlands produce agave with sweeter and more fruity flavors, and the lowlands produce earthy and herbal flavors [in the tequila]. which gin lacks.”
The complex flavors and inherent smokiness of mezcal give it an intriguing presence on the palate, and the well-rounded version made by Recuerdo makes an elegant addition to a citrusy cocktail like a gimlet. Bar manager David Alvarez of Casablanca on the Bay in Miami, Florida says that “Recuerdo Mezcal brings a smoky yet smooth cooked-agave flavor, [along] with sweet, light, bitter, and earthy notes. Utilizing it in a gimlet allows you to really explore and gently venture into the world of mezcal.”
That’s right, whiskey enthusiasts: Brown liquor can indeed find a place in a gimlet. At least, that’s what Brittany Merriman, the former pro bartender and current travel blogger behind Bon Voyage Brittany, firmly believes, at least in regards to one specific whiskey. “For a completely unexpected twist on a gimlet, I really love using High West Distillery’s Valley Tan Whiskey. This one honestly blows people’s minds. Valley Tan is a whiskey made from wheat and oat and aged briefly in white oak. It’s much lighter than the common whiskey (almost a straw color). The flavors of the Valley Tan lean towards piña coladas, pineapple, citrus, and even a touch of vanilla icing. Not what people expect from a whiskey! The simple sugar and lime mix of a gimlet really brings out these flavors and creates a surprisingly light and tasty cocktail,” insists Nicol.
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