Drinks

The Gimlet – Scurvy’s Bane

The Gimlet is another one of those classic cocktails that has a few simple ingredients, coming together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Like most of the classics, there is some interesting history behind it as well as a good deal of confusion as to the true original recipe. I can’t really answer that question here, but what I can do is tell you a bit about it, give you my preferred recipe, and show you a popular variation. Walk with me, back to the late 1800s, right after the break.

On the High Seas

Scurvy – the terror of the historical ocean explorer. An often fatal illness stemming from a vitamin C deficiency, it wreaked havoc on early sailors travelling across the Atlantic as they didn’t stock any fruit for long voyages, due to spoilage concerns. Once it was discovered that stocking vitamin C-rich food and drinks would avoid scurvy, every navy was looking for a way to get the essence of fruit in an easily preserved form.

Enter the lime cordial. Rose’s Lime Cordial, to be specific. You can find a fantastic detailed history of how the lime cordial came about in this article by Bill Norris, but here’s a quick summary: Lauchlan Rose was trying to produce a citrus juice that didn’t use alcohol as its preservative, so that he could sell it to the growing members of the temperance movement. Eventually, he was able to create and patent the method for what became known as Rose’s Lime Cordial, a sweet lime syrup without alcohol, that had a long shelf life.

The Merchant Navy and Royal Navy bought it by the barrel. In fact, the ubiquity of the lime cordial on their ships was how the British earned the nickname “Limey”. Sailors would mix the cordial with Plymouth gin in order to get their daily ration of vitamin C and avoid the scurvy, and thus was born the Gimlet!

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Recipe

With a mixture of 1 part gin to 1 part lime cordial and no ice (these weren’t exactly cruise ships), the Gimlet that 19th century sailors drank is probably not very palatable for modern tastes. Oddly enough, while you can still find Rose’s brand lime cordial, it’s also probably not the same as the one served to the old Royal Navy. In fact, the ingredients vary from country to country, and there’s really no saying which is most loyal to the original recipe.

I much prefer to use fresh-squeezed lime juice and simple syrup in place of cordial. Also, the use of ice further changes the balance of the drink from the original, so different proportions are used. A quick search of the Internet or reading through a cocktail book will net you a huge variety of different proportions to this recipe, with no agreed-upon standard. These are the proportions I like, but feel free to adjust them to your tastes.

The Preferred Gimlet

2 oz gin (Plymouth brand, preferably)
½ oz lime juice
½ oz simple syrup
Lime wheel or peel

Add gin, lime juice, and simple syrup to an ice-filled shaker, shake well, and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with lime wheel or lime peel.

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Many traditionalists will still swear today that the only way to make a Gimlet is to use Plymouth gin and lime cordial, with that “artificial” flavouring of the cordial being a desirable feature. If that sounds more like your bag, give this one a shot:

The More Traditional Gimlet

2 oz Plymouth gin
1 oz Rose’s Lime Cordial
Lime wedge

Add gin and lime cordial to a glass and stir, then strain into a coupe or martini glass. If you’d prefer it cold, add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker and shake well before straining. Garnish with a squeeze from the lime wedge.

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Understandably, you may be exclaiming to yourself, “But guys, you always say to use fresh squeezed fruit juice and heap scorn upon those who don’t,” and you would most assuredly be correct. This may be the only potential exception to that very important rule.

Either way, you’re going to end up with a simple and delicious cocktail, and when you get tired of it, there are tons of great variations that branch off from this basic recipe. I’ll be writing about some of those bad boys in the future, so stay tuned.

As it’s a Tuesday, the traditional Royal Navy toast is appropriate: Cheers to our sailors!

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