Today we’re placing the Gimlet in the lofty place it should occupy in the cocktail canon because June 23 is Raymond Chandler’s birthday. The Gimlet was his drink, you see. Or at least the drink of Philip Marlowe, the hardboiled, hard-drinking gumshoe he brought to life in his novels. To do that, of course, we’re going to cover the history of the Gimlet and how to make a proper lime cordial – it’s not easy to find on the shelf these days. And then, of course, we’ll get on to the Gimlet recipe.
Before all that, let’s briefly cover Raymond Chandler, the author and drinker. We owe it to anyone who could write “There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
Raymond Chandler was born July 23, 1888 and became a detective fiction writer after losing his job during the Great Depression. He ended up becoming immensely popular as a founder of the hardboiled school of detective fiction. Three of his books are considered masterpieces: Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The Little Sister (1949) and The Long Goodbye (1953).
The hardboiled school is a literary genre in which the typical protagonist is a detective batting organized crime amidst a corrupt legal system. They’re cynical and hard drinking. Examples include Dick Tracy, Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and Chandler’s recurring protagonist, Philip Marlowe. All but one of Chandler’s novels were made into movies, and no less than Humphrey Bogart played the consummate Marlowe.
Chandler was a solid drinker like other authors we’ve discussed: John Steinbeck and the Jack Rose, Jack Kerouac and the Rusty Nail, or Truman Capote and the In Cold Blood cocktail. Hemingway is in his own category. As Chandler said, “Throw up into your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.” More or less how we roll at The Drunkard’s Almanac.
The Marlowe character was in the same camp, saying “I’m an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard.”
Chandler himself became associated with the Gimlet and it became Marlowe’s choice as well. As he said in The Long Goodbye,
“We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. ‘They don’t know how to make them here,’ he said. ‘What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.’”
Many will argue against the Gimlet beating out the Martini, but it’s a damn good drink when properly prepared.
The Gimlet has a long history beginning with the passage of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867, which specified that British merchant ships stock rations of lime juice to prevent scurvy. This was the same year that Lauchlan Rose of Edinburgh patented a nonalcoholic method of preserving lime juice. Rose’s lime cordial was born and by the 1870s they advertised it as delicious when combined with spirits.
Gin was its natural complement. Back when Britain’s Royal Navy was at its greatest, before Black Tot Day and no more daily rum ration, the officers typically preferred Gin. The simple combination of Rose’s and Gin became known as the Gimlet. The Royal Navy website credits naval doctor Sir Thomas Gimlette as the inventor, urging officers to combine their prescribed lime juice with their daily gin ration to make it more palatable.
There’s just one problem with recreating the drink today. Roses’s simply isn’t what it was. At least in the U.S. what’s available now is high fructose corn syrup, some lime juice concentrate and “natural flavors.” It’s labeled Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice and serious professional bartenders refuse to use it. You can get closer to the original with the U.K version, Rose’s Lime Cordial, if you want to drink like Philip Marlowe.
Lime Cordial and the Gimlet Recipe
The Gimlet recipe first appeared in Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, written by Harry McElhone in 1919. It specified 2 parts gin to 1 part lime cordial. Many bartenders today handle problem by mixing lime juice with simple syrup or infusing simple syrup with lime zest. You can try that if you like, but then you’ve pretty much gotten a gin-based Daiquiri. That’s not really a Gimlet.
A good lime cordial is bracing, tart, and has a bitter edge to it. To achieve that we need to be more ambitious in our preparation. The recipe we present is a variation on a version popularized by the well-regarded bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. His method has the advantage of not requiring any long infusions and can be ready in just a few minutes. We simply modify his method by adding more lime juice to keep the sweetness in check. If you’re ambitious you can clarify the lime juice using agar, but that’s one we’ll leave to your own research if you wish to so proceed.
The Gimlet recipe is dead simple – just two ingredients. But how you handle the lime cordial side of it is up to you, and we show that in a separate recipe here: Lime Cordial.
- Nick and Nora or coupe glass
- 2 oz Gin
- 1 oz Lime cordial Do you best to avoid Rose's Sweetened Lime Juice and get Rose's Lime Cordial instead. Or, make your own lime cordial, which is great to have around.
- Add all ingredients to your trusty mixing glass.
- Add ice and stir to chill.
- Strain into pre-chilled cocktail glass.
- Rinse and repeat.