The gimlet is a cocktail based on gin and lime juice that dates to the 1800s, putting its age in company with classics like the Old Fashioned or the martini.
The drink’s origins are murky but tend to follow the tale of sailors in the British navy adding liquor to mandated rations of lemon and lime juice meant to combat scurvy. Variations of this story have been recycled over and over again to describe the invention of everything from the mojito (Sir Francis Drake battling scurvy on expeditions to Cuba) to the Singapore Sling (descendent from the gin and lime or gin and tonic combinations meant to allegedly combat scurvy and malaria, respectively). The gimlet is often claimed to have been coined after Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette, a British naval doctor, or possibly named for a tool for boring holes on ships. Like most cocktail legends, scant evidence exists to definitively prove either narrative.
Whether these drinks were created to specifically combat vitamin C deficiencies or simply came about based on humans’ innate desire to take alcohol and mix it with whatever’s onhand to see if it tastes good, or both, the cocktail’s longevity owes to gin and lime being a natural pairing.
What’s in a gimlet?
At its heart, the gimlet is a combination of three ingredients: gin, lime juice and sugar (usually in the form of simple syrup). Other spirits can be substituted, like vodka, which has turned the word “gimlet” into something of a cocktail-modifier, meaning “spirit combined with lime juice and sugar.”
But the gimlet’s story is also indelibly tied to another product with roots in the 19th century, Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial.
In Britain, during the 19th-century period of mandatory lime rations for the navy, juice was often preserved for long journeys by mixing it with smaller amounts of a neutral spirit. Seeking alternative preservation techniques, a ship provisioner named Lachlan Rose patented a method to preserve lime juice using sugar rather than alcohol, correctly surmising that this non-alcoholic variation would open a larger market for his product.
Rose’s popularity as a shelf-stable alternative to fresh lime juice expanded beyond naval operations and into bars across the globe. Though recipes for the gimlet historically flip between calls for Rose’s cordial as opposed to fresh ingredients, its fate was sealed when, in Raymond Chandler’s seminal noir novel The Long Goodbye, hardboiled protagonist Philip Marlowe stated, “A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else.”
This codified the 50/50 mix of gin and Rose’s as the accepted gimlet recipe for decades to come. And, for better or worse, the cordial’s ease of use ushered in an era of premade mixers being substituted for fresh ingredients in bars, culminating in a bar culture in the 1990s where a whiskey sour meant two ounces of brown alcohol topped with a few spurts from the “sour” button of a soda gun.
How to make a gimlet
As the millennium came and went, bartenders rediscovered that juice actually comes from fruit and embraced the long-lost art of squeezing until it comes out. Since then, the gimlet experienced a resurgence as a simple cocktail of gin, lime and sugar, and turned a new generation on to the versatility of a liquor whose associations had largely been relegated to martinis and tonic mixers.
Almost any gin can work well in a gimlet, and your choice should be a matter of personal taste. Plymouth Gin is a classic that works nicely with the added citrus and still brings a juniper-forward profile with a touch of earth and pine. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is crafted in another classic style, that includes enough citrus oils to work well in the cocktail, along with a rounder, more herbaceously sweet profile. Tanqueray’s Rangpur Gin, whose namesake fruit is a hybrid between orange and citron, pairs seamlessly with the lime-forward gimlet.
From a newer producer, Golden State Distillery’s Gray Whale Gin includes lime, mint and kelp among its botanicals, which helps to create a brisk gimlet with a cooling effect akin to a classic mojito or Southside. Philadelphia-based Bluecoat Gin is an American dry style that’s effortlessly light with citrus and resin notes that add dimension to your cocktail. Nikka Coffey Gin, from the famed Japanese distillery, is another fantastic option that brings citrus with a backbone of apple and sansho pepper.
Combine all ingredients except garnish in shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously for 15–30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into chilled coupe, or rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with lime wedge.
Last Updated: June 27, 2023