Gillette Cocktail

King Gillette patents disposable razor blades

Your cocktail calendar entry for: November
15
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November 15, 1904 was the day King Gillette received a U.S. Patent on the safety razor so that calls for mixing the Gillette cocktail as Drink of the Day.  The patent, of course, was for the first “safety razor” with disposable blades.  The kind your grandfather probably used – a handle with a single, disposable blade clamped inside.  Not what we typically see today, though this style does have its devotees.

Any way you look at it, Mr. Gillette was a sharp guy.  He founded a corporate giant on a simple invention that was quickly deemed essential:  the safety razor with disposable blades.

The Gillette cocktail may or may not have anything to do with the razor man.  Nobody really knows, but the name works and as a progenitor of the beloved Gimlet we find it appropriate.  Even if we’d advise staying clear of sharp objects while drinking them.

King Gillette and Razors

King Camp Gillette was born in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, in 1855.  His family bounced to Chicago and then New York, and he became a traveling salesman at the age of 17.  He was a tinkerer, earning four patents by 1890 when he would have been 35.  But most importantly, he learned from the President of his company that selling disposable items was lucrative.

Mr. Gillette was on the road a lot, taking trains from town to town.  He shaved every morning with a Star Safety Razor.  That one, like others at the time, used a wedge like blade fitted perpendicular to its handle.  The problem was those blades dulled quickly and required frequent stropping to sharpen

In 1895 Gillette realized that if he could put an edge on a small square of sheet metal he could market a safety razor blade that could be replaced when dulled.  He visited metallurgists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but they told him this was impossible.  It took six years, but eventually he found an engineer named William Nickerson who would create the blade.

Gillette and Nickerson formed the American Safety Razor Company (soon renamed Gillette) in 1901.  Production began in 1903 and for the first time razor blades were sold in packages, the handle being a one-time purchase.  The patent to which we’re drinking came the following year.

Competition was fierce.  Modifications sprouted and patent wars ensued.  Gillette often resolved controversies by buying the competitor.  But Gillette was clever and responded deftly as patents expired and competitors undercut his pricing.  In 1921 he dropped his old handle prices to match those of his competitors.  Simultaneously, he introduced a new, patented handle at his traditional price point.  Entry model and upgrade.  Strangely, that philosophy seems to have endured in their product line.

The Gillette Cocktail

The Gillette cocktail is a sharp, piquant drink – and is in fact what many bartenders today will put in front of you if you ask for a Gimlet.  It’s not a Gimlet, per se:  that requires Rose’s Lime Juice in its original form or a good lime cordial today.  (We discuss this at length when we mix a proper Gimlet for Raymond Chandler’s birthday.)   But the Gillette is rightly seen as a predecessor to the Gimlet.

David Wondrich reports in The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails that the Gillette was first published in Tom Bullock’s 1917 work The Ideal Bartender.  There it’s shown as Gillette Cocktail – Chicago Style – but why he calls it Chicago Style remains a mystery.

The drink itself is the archetypical sour:  spirit, citrus and sweetener.  It nominally uses Old Tom Gin, the style from 19th century England as discussed with respect to the Martinez cocktail.  Old Tom Gin is available, but you can still make the Gillette cocktail using the London dry gin you’ve got.  Old Tom Gin is a slightly sweetened style of gin so all it takes is adding a bit more sweetener.  We’d advise doing it by taste, and suggest starting with ¾ oz of sugar.

gillette cocktail

Gillette Cocktail

The Gillette cocktail, a predecessor to the Gimlet, is a straightforward gin sour. Strangely enough, it's also what many bars will now serve you if you ask for a Gimlet due to the fact that Rose's Lime Juice is no longer in its original form and a good Gimlet requires making your own lime cordial. Nonetheless, it's a sharp, bracing drink and is easy to mix.
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Ingredients
  

  • 2 ¼ oz Old Tom Gin Old Tom Gin is an older form of gin, prevalent in the 19th century, that was slightly sweetened. If you don't have it handy use your everyday gin but increase the sugar a bit.
  • ½ oz Fresh lime juice
  • ½ tsp sugar or equivalent simple syrup If you're using a modern London Dry gin we'd advise upping the sugar to 3/4 tsp.

Instructions
 

  • Add all ingredients to your trusty shaker.
  • Add ice and shake until frosty cold.
  • Strain into pre-chilled coupe glass. No garnish.
  • Drink.
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