The Gimlet is a classic, elegant cocktail playing on the ever-complimentary flavour pairing of gin and lime. The cocktail’s origins, much like our own here at 6 O’clock Gin, are based firmly in naval tradition, making the history of the Gimlet almost as simple as the drink itself.
For those of you not acquainted with the origin of our name, it was inspired by a long-held family tradition of indulging in the first G&T of the evening at 6 o’clock; a very British custom with colonial roots. Whilst working as an inventor and engineer in the Merchant Navy, our founder’s great-grandfather, Edward Kain, needed to take a daily dose of quinine powder to stave off malaria when traveling in India and Africa. The powder was bitter, so he combined it with water and bicarbonate of soda to make a fizzy tonic and soon discovered that it became even more palatable when combined with gin. For many, this is a familiar history which led us to the now infamous gin and tonic, which Edward would sit and enjoy daily at 6pm.
The Gimlet shares a similarly-romantic naval backstory to ours, in that the combination of lime cordial and gin we now sip and enjoy as a pre-dinner aperitif was once a key prescription for warding off scurvy. Back in 1867, Lauchlan Rose patented a method for preserving citrus juice, which was already well known for curing the symptoms of scurvy, with sugar – rather than alcohol which had been used previously. This opened up a much wider market for the mass consumption of Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, to the extent that the 1867 Merchant Shipping Act required all vessels to carry and serve it as a daily ration to their crews. Gin was used to soften the sharpness of the citrus and create the Gimlet, much as it toned down the bitterness of Edward Kain’s anti-malarial quinine powder to create the classic G&T.
Why is it called a Gimlet?
There are a few conflicting theories around how this drink got its name, however they are at least all roughly in the same ballpark. One idea is that the drink was named after Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette, who served as a doctor to sailors between 1879 and 1913. Gimlette would give his patients lime juice combined with gin to take the bitter edge off the citrus kick. It is, however, unlikely that he was the only doctor practising this method, so an alternative theory is that the cocktail is named after a tool commonly used for drilling small holes, notably into barrels of spirits. Whichever theory you subscribe to, we can be certain that the Gimlet has undergone a lengthy process of refinement and gentrification since its naval inception.
How do you make a Gimlet?
The most traditional recipe for the drink was a concoction of equal parts gin and lime cordial, a ratio immortalised in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, where Philip Marlowe states that “a real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s lime juice and nothing else.” According to the expert cocktail aficionados at Difford’s Guide, the trend for modern palates to err on the side of drier drinks has caused the proportion of lime cordial used in a Gimlet to dwindle, with some recipes suggesting a rather meagre one part lime cordial to six parts gin.
For us, the ideal measures for a sumptuous and zesty drink are 25ml lime cordial (homemade, if you have the urge) to 50ml of our strikingly smooth London Dry. Both ingredients should be added to a large glass with plenty of ice and stirred down until the outside of the glass is cold to the touch – indicating you have sufficiently chilled the drink. Much like the Martini, there is question over whether shaking or stirring is the preferable method to combine the ingredients in the Gimlet, but once again, we would recommend stirring for better control and to maintain the silky texture of the drink.
Once your ingredients are combined, strain into your favourite glass and garnish with a twist of lime peel. The simplicity of this drink does not measure up to the robustness of its taste – the sharp lime cuts through the piney juniper and floral notes of the gin, creating a sensational drink with minimal effort.