Tradition with a twist
by Jared Johnson
The gimlet, a perfect balance between tart and sweet, is bold enough to boost the saltiest drinker’s morale. Ice cold and refreshing, it makes a fantastic summer sipper and, as with so many cocktails, it is buried up to its garnish in controversy and debate. Should it be made with vodka or gin? Juice squeezed from a lime or bottled Rose’s lime juice? Served up or on the rocks?
Like so many of the classics, the gimlet has a storied lineage and we cannot be 100 percent sure of its origins or its inventor. The most plausible story is in naval history. From the end of the 17th century up into the 20th, the British Navy was a super power on the open seas. As the most powerful Navy in the world, they often had to contend with privateers and pirates, rogue waves and bellowing whales, but nothing wreaked havoc upon the Royal Navy like malnutrition. Scurvy (a result of vitamin C deficiency) claimed millions of sailors’ lives before the use of citrus juices became commonplace on ships. And even then, preserving the juice became a huge obstacle for extended ocean voyages.
In 1867 two very important events occurred, catapulting the gimlet into popularity. With impeccable timing, a Scottish merchant by the name of Lauchlin Rose patented a process for preserving lime juice during the same year that the British government passed a law mandating all British cargo ships to provide daily rations of lime juice along with the traditional rations of rum. The enlisted sailors drank their rations of rum and lime together as grog, the predecessor of today’s modern daiquiri. Most officers however, chose to take their lime juice with a jigger of gin, and thus the gimlet was born, owing its name possibly to Sir Thomas D. Gimlette, a naval surgeon who encouraged his fellow officers to take their alcohol with a dose of lime juice.
While tradition ties proper gimlet preparation to Rose’s lime juice, I would like to offer a few variations, easy enough to try at home. I encourage you to experiment with the ratio of sweet and tart till you find a balance you appreciate, because after all, the best drink is the one you have in your hand.