Better Know a Classic: Gimlet

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Vodka Gimlet

2 oz Vodka [Bradford]
3/4 – 1 oz Homemade Lime Cordial

Combine in a tin, shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime twist.


My father-in-law is going to be very excited about this post. I’d have to say the gimlet is his go-to drink. Like most people with their preferred tipples, he’s very particular about them too. When he orders one, he expects the classic tart sweetness of Rose’s Lime Cordial. According to him, fresh lime and sugar just isn’t the same – and since this is his drink, I’ll follow his lead. But we can do better than the high fructose laden Rose’s.

First, a bit of history. It shows up in the Savoy Cocktail book, but its origins are tied to the British Navy. Scurvy was a constant fear on ships in the late 1800s. The lack of vitamin C that causes it can easily be counteracted by consuming citrus. Unfortunately fresh citrus did not last long at sea. Luckily a clever Scotsman named Lauchlan Rose figured out a way to preserve limes in sugar instead of alcohol, and thus Rose’s Lime Cordial was born.

Soon it was on every ship, getting mixed with the sailors’ daily rations of gin in the fight against scurvy. Legend has it Surgeon Admiral (that’s a badass title, btw) Sir Thomas Gimlette was the first to make this practice standard, lending his name to the drink. Another story says that the drink was named after a small drill used around ships, specifically to drill holes in the barrels of booze that contained the daily rations. This dovetailed nicely with the drinks “piercing” affect. Either way, the sailors spread the drink far and wide, and the simplicity of it help catch on to the general public.

Now back to my father-in-law’s “Rose’s only” stance in his gimlets. On a recent family visit, I decided to try my hand at a homemade lime cordial. If he gave it the nod of approval, then I’d know it’s a winner. I decided to follow Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe, and not just because he shared the same Rose’s or bust stance. What I really liked about it was the simplicity. Zest some limes, squeeze some juice, add sugar and a bit of citric acid, whizz it in a blender and you’re good to go. No boiling, no steeping, tons of flavor. And it can practically be made a la minute. The ROI is strong with this one.

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The other great thing about the gimlet is it’s versatility. Gin, vodka, or really any base spirit can work. When I served it at a party I set up a little gimlet station, with mezcal in addition to the usual gin and vodka. I also used the opportunity to by my first potato vodka, Bradford from Hingham, MA. The potato adds a bit more body and earthy flavor to the vodka. I’m definitely a fan.

No matter what booze you put in it, resist the temptation to swap fresh lime and sugar into your gimlet. There is a signature bite that Rose’s has that is so essential to the drink. But instead of putting a bunch of high fructose corn syrup into your cocktail, whip up a batch of DIY Rose’s. Even better, you can use it more than just gimlets too. But be sure to make plenty of those.

And as for my father-in-law, he ended up going back for a second gimlet, so I knew i passed the test.

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