Everyone who loves a gimlet has a personal story to tell about their first experience with this timeless mix of gin, lime, and sugar. Drinks writers are no exception. When the New York Times writer Robert Simonson gathered experts to go on a crawl through the five boroughs in search of the ultimate gimlet for Punch Magazine, how they learned about the cocktail challenged their assumptions and the resulting dialog around a lime cordial. For Punch co-founder Leslie Pariseau, gimlets are more about the season — they always feel best in August.
Gimlets will always make me think of chess. For years when I was young, my father and I would have a near weekly game. It was untimed, as long as I focused on my next move I could take as long as I needed. I almost never won, but enjoyed the contests we had from before I was eight on into my early teens. I remember us celebrating on the occasion of my first win with gimlets; his made with gin, sweetened lime juice, and a squeeze of fresh lime; mine the same, omitting the gin as I was 11-years-old. I remember the game. We chose sides at random, the red and white pawns gripped to conceal them in my dad’s outstretched hands. I received white. Getting to move first gave me my chance and we set in motion on a very standard opening. I was able to pin one of his knights to his queen. Trading my bishop for it, left his pawns in a weakened position, whereby I ground out the rest of the match in the most risk-averse, defensive fashion. It was boring, it was not pretty, and I had learned it all from him. But in the end I turned a one-pawn advantage into a second queen and the first of my only two wins in the series.
I remember the gimlet recipe, too. He lightly shook equal parts Rose’s sweetened lime juice and Gordon’s gin garnished with just a squeeze of fresh lime in the mix for his cocktail. (Years later, I would recognize this as the near standard ratio we call ‘2-1-1’ or classic proportions. Theoretically the sweetened lime is one part lime juice, one part sweetener.) Mine was all Rose’s, again with that addition of a fresh slice of lime. Whatever grown-up distractions had also contributed to my victory remain a mystery to me as does the exact narrative about how this came to be a favorite cocktail of his. Ernest Hemingway was definitely mentioned, as likely was his work “Green Hills of Africa.” The part I remember most is how that a little bit of fresh lime juice makes all the difference.
By now, avid gimlet drinkers reading this are lining up in camps to argue whether or not I’m right about the recipe coming at the end of this diary. Some will argue that as the origins of the cocktail lay in the invention of preserved lime juice, that it must be made with Rose’s brand or some other clarified lime cordial. The fact that American-made Rose’s Lime is full of corn syrup and preservatives while our friends in the U.K. and Canada still have theirs made with real sugar won’t dissuade them. Others might insist that the vodka variation is better or that all through the seasons tossing freshly picked herbs from the garden with a pinch of salt is the key.
I’ll always cherish the memory of my first gimlet, but you won’t catch me using an ingredient that is laden with the sodium metabisulfate preservative and Blue 1 dye. I’ll choose to remember that “touch of fresh lime” as key and remain dedicated to adding to the memory with as many interesting versions of this classic cocktail as I can find.
Gin and herb gimlet
- 2 oz. gin
- ¾ oz. lime juice
- ¾ oz. simple syrup
- Pinch of salt
- Optional: herbs (suggested: mint, thyme, rosemary, or tarragon)
- Shake over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with fresh herbs or lime.
Watch our virtual cocktail class
Watch Cocktail Club host Jackson Cannon and special guest Tuscan Brands beverage director Jose Luis Betancur mix spring gin cocktails.