The Gimlet is an easy classic cocktail made with gin and lime juice. There are a lot of variations, so we’ll cover the traditional recipe with lime cordial and an equally simple modern take made with fresh lime juice and simple syrup.
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Although more palatable interpretations are most common these days, an early recipe (from the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book) lists the Gimlet as equal parts gin and lime cordial, ice optional.
More disturbing is the version listed in my 2015 reprint of the same book, which just calls for equal parts gin and lime juice. Yikes. So how did this enduring classic go from tepid and medicinal to cool and refined?
The history behind the cocktail
The Gimlet first appeared on British naval ships during the 19th century. After it was discovered that consuming citrus juices would prevent scurvy (a painful disease brought on by vitamin C deficiency), lime juice became a required ration for sailors. The newly patented Rose’s Lime Cordial was the best way to take lime juice to sea because it was preserved thanks to all that sugar. Before long, the lime cordial was mixed with gin, and the Gimlet was born.
Why is it called a ‘Gimlet’?
There are a number of theories about how the cocktail got its name. One idea is that it was named after the gimlet, a small tool used for drilling holes. According to Difford’s Guide, this name might have evolved because the tools were used to open liquor barrels on the ships.
Another story says that a doctor by the name of Thomas Gimlette was the inventor of the drink. This earliest Gimlet was a more enjoyable way to consume the acidic lime juice that was prescribed as a daily anti-scurvy medicine. And who doesn’t love a little gin with their daily dose of vitamin C!
The classic Gimlet made with Rose’s Lime Cordial
Also known as Rose’s Lime Juice, Rose’s Lime Cordial is a bottled juice that’s sweetened and nearly clear in appearance. The traditional Gimlet recipe requires just one part gin and one part of this sweetened lime juice.
Although today we would shake any cocktail made with citrus juices (in order to fully incorporate the juice as well as to aerate and chill the drink), the Gimlet was a simple, no fuss drink that would have likely just been stirred quickly and tossed back. As no ice was available on naval ships back in the day, the drink was served at room temperature. You can feel free to try this rough, unchilled concoction if you like, but I’d recommend adjusting the recipe just a bit.
A drinkable traditional Gimlet
If you’d like to use the traditional ingredients, pick up a bottle of Rose’s Lime Cordial and a bottle of Plymouth Gin. Any London Dry Gin will do if you don’t have Plymouth on hand. Next, measure out 2 ounces gin and 1 ounce Rose’s. Shake the ingredients with plenty of ice and strain into a cocktail glass.
While the original Gimlet called for equal parts gin and Rose’s, it’s a bit too sweet for modern tastes. Scaling the sweetened lime juice back to an ounce makes the drink much more enjoyable.
Keep in mind that any bottled citrus juice won’t taste like fresh, and Rose’s is no exception. It has a characteristic sharpness and tang about it that some folks really enjoy. However, if you’re into crafting your own cocktails, I recommend picking up a few limes along with that bottle of Rose’s and trying this perfectly balanced modern Gimlet recipe next.
The modern, fresh-is-best Gimlet recipe
For our updated, modern take on the classic, we’ll use freshly squeezed lime juice, simple syrup, and gin. I recommend going with the ratio of 2 parts gin to ¾ part lime juice and ¾ part syrup. This formula showcases the flavor of the spirit in a well-balanced, sweet and tart cocktail.
If this tastes a bit strong for you, try a ratio of 2 parts gin to 1 part lime juice and 1 part simple syrup. Shake the ingredients with ice until thoroughly chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wheel. Three simple ingredients shaken into one perfect gin cocktail!
Out of gin? The Vodka Gimlet became a popular alternative during the vodka-obsessed 1990s. Simply replace the gin with vodka, and voila! Have limes and a bottle of rum? Make a classic Daiquiri instead.
Make it a Cucumber Gimlet by muddling a few slices of cucumber in the cocktail shaker with the fresh lime juice (or lime cordial). Then add the gin (or vodka), simple syrup (if using), and ice and shake until chilled. Fine strain the cocktail into a coupe or martini glass and garnish with a slice of cucumber.
If you’re into infusing your spirits, you could also make a Cucumber Gimlet by infusing some gin or vodka with fresh cucumbers for a few days.
Pro tip: This applies to pretty much any fruit or herb, by the way. Fill a mason jar about ⅓ to ½ with your botanical of choice, then fill the jar with spirit of choice, cover and let it steep for a few days. Infusing spirits is a great way to experiment and add new flavors to classic cocktails.
If you enjoy a Gimlet, you may also love:
For a modern, freshly squeezed Gimlet:
- 2 oz gin
- ¾ oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- ¾ oz simple syrup
For a traditional Gimlet (with lime cordial):
- 2 oz gin
- 1 oz Rose's Lime Cordial (also called Rose's Lime Juice)
To make either cocktail:
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill it 3/4 with ice.
- Shake until chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.