The martini is the public face of gin, the iconic cocktail — deservedly so, to be sure. Its popularity is approached only by the gin and tonic, that refreshing and pleasantly bitter concoction of the British. But my favorite everyday gin drink – the one that requires no special ingredients, unlike a Last Word or an Aviation – is the gimlet: gin and Rose’s lime juice (known as “lime cordial” outside the USA).
The gin gimlet has longer history than you may realize. Rose’s lime cordial, a mix of lime juice and sugar, has been around since 1867, when it was used to provide a citrus ration to British sailors, in an attempt to prevent scurvy. (The use of limes in British sailors’ diets is where the term “limey” comes from.) Although many people will make a gimlet these days with fresh lime juice, which is a perfectly good drink, the original was made with Rose’s — which is what I continue to use in mine.
The availability of Rose’s most likely precipitated the drink’s creation, and people continued to insist on it even when fresh limes were available. Raymond Chandler — who lived in Los Angeles and would have had no trouble getting good fresh citrus — called for a 1:1 ratio, half gin and half Rose’s. Most recipes you’ll find in cocktail guides lean more towards 3:1 or 4:1, but I love Chandler’s version. Stirred on ice, and remembering that when we shake or stir a drink we want to wind up with a dilution of about 15-20%, it’s a rich drink, but the sweetness and tartness are in balance. Rose’s gives you consistent results, helpful when you’re making a lot of drinks — which may have been what Chandler found appealing, after all. Fresh lime juice varies more in its sweetness and tartness. I would certainly never give it up in a margarita, but once or twice a week I’ll make my gimlets with Rose’s, till the day they stop making it.
So let’s take that as our basic gimlet, the Chandler version with Rose’s. Because it’s such a simple drink, it’s extremely simple to create variants. The lime-and-mint combination of the mojito has been so popular in recent years that there are mojito-flavored malt beverages, sorbets, and chewing gums now. The cool juniper notes of gin go very nicely with mint — bruise some mint leaves with crushed ice before building your gimlet over them, and you have an excellent summer cooler; it wouldn’t be out of line to top it with a little soda.
Even better in my view, though, is a ginger gimlet, though after the first two you may find yourself accidentally softening the G in gimlet. Like with the Rose’s, I’m going to have to call for a specific brand’s ingredient here — feel free to substitute if you know of one, I just don’t, and making this from scratch is impractical unless you’re making a large quantity of drinks. Add to your gimlet a few dashes of ginger juice from The Ginger People — generally available in your better grocery stores and gourmet shops — and you have a ginger and lime combination that the rum drinks will envy. Unlike ginger-flavored syrup or powdered ginger, ginger juice still has some real heat to it, some definite spice — any other form of ginger makes this a different drink. Again, gin’s strength in this drink is in those big, booming base notes from the juniper — the heat of the ginger and the tanginess of the Rose’s play against that like lights strewn around a Christmas tree.
For a very very dry gimlet … get rid of the Rose’s altogether, and use Hangar One’s Kaffir lime vodka. (Or cheat further and use the tasty Tanqueray Rangur gin.) Even if, like me, you eschew flavored vodkas, it’s worth looking into Hangar One’s offerings, which are high-quality, dry, and interesting cocktail ingredients — no sour watermelon bubblegum vodka to be had here. The kaffir lime is a Southeast Asian lime, used frequently in Thai cooking. The vodka has a pronounced lime flavor with floral notes reminiscent of some of gin’s botanicals; the combination, in about a 3:1 gin-to-vodka ratio with a little simple syrup, well-stirred to dilute, is a potent one. If the gimlet is a casual drink with its collar loosened and its shoes kicked off, this is its more formal cousin, practically a martini — and you may want to take the potency down a notch with a little vermouth. You can even add a dash of orange bitters if you like to add a note of complexity to this form of gin gimlet.