For such a straightforward drink, this one’s shockingly easy to mess up. A gimlet is a classic gin cocktail made with gin and lime (if you’re not a gin person, just pretend you see “vodka” whenever I say gin). Seems simple, right? The problem is, even once you settle on the best base spirit for a gimlet, there’s little consensus on what else goes into the drink. Some purists call for gin and a squeeze of fresh lime, an enamel-stripping combination that’s way too sour for most. Others demand a mixture of gin and artificial lime cordial, which is classic … but also saccharine and off-tasting. When you order a gimlet at a craft cocktail bar these days, you’re likely to get gin shaken with lime juice and simple syrup. While that’s tasty, it’s also boring. A perfect gimlet is better, brighter, and more enticingly bitter than any of these poseurs, and we’re gonna find it.
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 ounce homemade lime cordial
- Lime wheel for garnish
- Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake vigorously.
- Strain into a coupe and garnish with a lime wheel.
When settling cocktail debates, it’s usually helpful to hit the books to see how the drink was originally made, but the history of the gimlet doesn’t offer much insight into the recipe. Manhattans and margaritas were designed with convivial imbibing in mind, but the gimlet was, by all reliable accounts, just a way to get British sailors to take their medicine. Scurvy-preventing lime juice was preserved on long ocean voyages in the form of sweetened cordial, and sailors mixed it with their daily ration of gin. (There wouldn’t have been ice on the hot ship, and it’s easy to imagine both the gin and the cordial needed a little improvement.) It’s an interesting origin story but unhelpful for aspiring bartenders because those first gimlets weren’t made with any discernible specs, and they probably didn’t taste that great anyway.
But it does leave us with named ingredients, which might be enough. Some cocktail historians (and the Royal Navy) argue that the gimlet was named after Surgeon Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette, a man in charge of sailor safety who was allegedly the first to consider adding gin to lime cordial. But a gimlet is also a metal tool used to bore holes in wood and open barrels (of gin, for instance). It’s small, simple, and piercing — just what a good gin gimlet should be.
With this philosophy in mind, we can look at those modern gimlet recipes through a new lens: The drink needs to be simple to make and sharp on the palate. Drinks calling for nothing but gin and lime juice accomplish this but are out of balance — acid without sugar is just unpleasant. A gimlet made with fresh lime juice and simple syrup — basically a gin daiquiri — is too mellow and sweet. What we need is the bright, bitter bite of lime cordial. But there’s a problem.
If I ask you to picture a bottle of lime cordial, you’ll probably see a neon green bottle with “Rose’s” in big letters. Rose’s was the OG lime cordial — its patent was filed back in the late 1800s, and it’s the very same stuff the Brits used at sea, so its authenticity is unimpeachable. But in the intervening 150 years, Rose’s cordial recipe has gone from zesty fresh lime preserved in sugar to a mess of high fructose corn syrup, dyes, and preservatives that taste as artificial as they look. If you want good lime cordial, you’re going to have to make it yourself.
A proper lime cordial combines the refreshing sourness of lime juice with the bitter complexity of lime zest, all balanced by the proper proportion of sweetness. It’s sublime, easy to make, and can be used in all sorts of cocktails. An added benefit of using it in place of fresh lime is that it lasts a lot longer in the fridge, so you’ll have cocktails for weeks if you make a big enough batch. Once you’ve got your cordial, making a gimlet with it is a cinch. Check out the recipes below.
- 5 limes
- 150 grams white sugar
- 5 ounces water
- 1 ounce vodka or grain alcohol (optional)
- Wash and peel the limes.
- Combine peels in a saucepan with 150 grams (3/4 cup) white sugar and 5 ounces (3/4 cup) water. Heat on medium, stirring until sugar is dissolved and lime oil is released (about 5 minutes).
- Juice the limes and add juice and contents of the saucepan to a blender. Blend on high for 30 seconds.
- Strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
- Add 1 ounce of vodka or grain alcohol as a preservative (optional).
- Bottle and refrigerate, or skip straight to shaking up a drink — you deserve it!
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