I had never heard of a gimlet prior to watching Mad Men a few years ago, and learned that it was Betty Draper’s drink of choice. Made with just gin or vodka and lime juice, it’s a timeless cocktail that makes perfect sense for Mrs. Draper.
The gimlet was earliest described as “gin, a spot of lime, and soda;” later as “half gin and half Rose’s lime juice;” and today is usually two parts gin to one part lime and some other non-alcoholic ingredient, like soda water. This second description is arguably the world’s most famous gimlet recipe, and debuted in 1953 in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. The book’s protagonist details that “a real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”
Much like its preparation, the name of this cocktail isn’t universally accepted. It could be named after a hand tool of the same name, used for drilling small holes and alluding to the cocktail’s “piercing effect;” but it could also be named after a navy surgeon, Sir Thomas Gimlette, who is believed responsible for adding lime cordial to the daily gin allowance of the men of the Royal Navy.
If you’re not familiar, Rose’s Lime Juice is a sweetened lime juice that goes hand-in-hand with traditional gimlets. Concentrated lime juice stemmed from the popularity of citrus fruit and juice on British naval ships, as sailors received a daily ration to prevent scurvy, a potentially deadly disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. Lachlan Rose patented the method used to preserve citrus juice without alcohol in 1867 after realizing that preserving with sugar instead of alcohol would create a wider market. The product was introduced to the United States in 1901.
When it comes to making gimlets, it really is open to interpretation. You can shake or stir them; they can be served in any stemmed glass; and they don’t even need to be made with gin to be considered a gimlet.
In 2002, William L. Hamilton wrote a column for the New York Times detailing the most correct way to make a gimlet – he prefers vodka to gin, with “Rose’s Lime Juice and fresh lime juice in equal parts, shaken or stirred until ice cold and served straight up in a stemmed cocktail glass that is confident but not proud of its sex appeal.” Specific, but we like it. The finished product should be garnished with a “thin crescent moon of lime,” floating in the drink rather than wedged into the side of the glass.
Sip on a gimlet this summer with this classic cocktail recipe.
SHAKE gin and lime juices with ice.
STRAIN into a stemmed cocktail glass.
FLOAT lime slice into drink for garnish.
My wife used to drink gin gimlets, then one day ran out of gin. She switched to tequila and has never looked back. She prefers Rose’s but any lime juice will work. It has similarities to a margarita but without some of the extra stuff that gets in the way of tasting the tequila.