It beats martinis hollow." -Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Lately this old classic's been getting a lot of play. Julie Powell sipped this simple drink while working her way through a challenging year of French cooking. Distinctively retro, it's been making a few cameos on Mad Men too.
Like many older cocktails, the Gimlet comes with a few stories. According to author and mixologist, Gary Regan, the drink gets its name from the navy surgeon, Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, who encouraged his messmates to take their gin with a healthy dash of lime as a way of preventing scurvy. In Classic Cocktails, on the other hand, Salvatore Calabrese tells a different tale. He says the short, sharp-tasting drink gets its name from a hand tool bartenders used to use to tap into spirits barrels.
In any case, the earliest Gimlets were a simple mixture of gin and bottled, sweetened lime juice. As vodka began to eclipse gin late in the 20th Century, the Vodka Gimlet became a more standard barroom drink.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT INGREDIENTS
Old-school Gimlets were made with Plymouth gin, but a crisp, dry London-style gin such as Tanqueray, Beefeater, Seagram's, or Gordon's is also a good choice. Save delicately aromatic gins like Hendrick's for cocktails such as Martinis, where their subtle flavors can shine through.
Same holds true here: save the Grey Goose for another occasion. Sturdy basics such as Smirnoff are a good Gimlet choice.
A bit of an anomaly in the cocktail world, the Gimlet must be made with sweet, bottled lime juice, not fresh (otherwise it would just be a Gin Rickey without the fizz). There's something in the unmistakably "preserved" flavor of the bottled stuff that gives the drink its distinct personality. Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice is the classic pick here, high fructose corn syrup and all.
Older recipes called for a 1:1 ratio of alcohol to bottled lime juice (as described in the Chandler quote at the top of the post), but most modern recipes tone down the limey taste by boosting the alcohol, mixing the two something closer to 3:1.
SHAKEN, STIRRED, STRAIGHT UP, OR ROCKS?
Um...yes. That is, doing a quick survey of recipes by Dale Degroff, Gary Regan, Salvatore Calabrese, Eric Felten, William Grimes, and David Wondrich, and checking The Savoy Cocktail Book, I encountered just about every combination of mixing and chilling technique imaginable. Personally, I like to keep things simple and quick: stir directly in the glass with ice and serve.
makes one drink
2 ounces gin (or vodka)
2/3 ounces Rose's or other preserved, sweetened lime juice
lime wedge, for garnish
Pour gin and lime juice into a rocks glass. Add ice and stir. Garnish with a wedge of lime.
Nora Maynard is a longtime home mixologist and an occasional instructor at NYC’s Astor Center. She is a contributor to The Business of Food: Encyclopedia of the Food and Drink Industries and is the recipient of the American Egg Board Fellowship in culinary writing at the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. She previously covered food and drink in film at The Kitchn in her weekly column, The Celluloid Pantry.
Related: All About Gin and Tonics
(Images: Nora Maynard)