Gim, set and match: The Gimlet makes a comeback

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

29 October 2018

Easy to make, easy to tweak and made with everyone’s favourite spirit, it’s no wonder that the Gimlet is seeing a revival. Laura Foster looks at the ultimate sharpener

There’s a new (old) entry in the ascendance in the UK classic cocktail charts. Following the Negroni’s dominance in recent years, the Gimlet – and myriad twists and variations thereon – has been making an appearance on leading cocktail bar menus across the country.

‘Classic cocktails follow a typical adoption path in the on-trade,’ explains The Cocktail Trading Company’s Elliot Ball. ‘First the leading, cutting-edge bars start listing it and making twists, before mid-level venues adopt it, and it continues to trickle all the way down the tree. This is by no means a matter of standards falling, merely increasing popularity.

‘Personally, I’d say the Gimlet, while unlikely to ever fully achieve Daiquiri status, shows some of the signs of similar progression – lots of different expressions and twists on it are coming out, brands are getting behind it and we’ve seen extremely prestigious venues make it a signature serve. I expect to see its popularity continue to grow fast.’

The team at Scarfes Bar in Rosewood London have certainly noticed an increased demand for the drink. ‘Our current menu was an answer to what people were asking for last year,’ explains head bartender Greg Almeida.

‘We went through all the classics that were ordered – Old Fashioneds, Negronis, Gimlets and White Russians – and created twists for them. Then we can offer alternatives from our own menu when they’re requested. We have a lot of people that love Gimlets.’

Fresh lime and sugar is a perfectly nice drink, but it’s not a Gimlet, it’s a Daiquiri

Jake Burger

The Scarfes team’s response was to create a vodka-based twist, inspired by David Bowie, called Zingy Stardust that contains a fresh lime cordial infused with zara lebu skin, shiso, kaffir lime leaves, and Electric Bitters to amp up the zing.

The different variations of citrus add pleasingly sharp layers of complexity to the drink, not least from the fragrant zara lebu, with its floral, yuzu-like flavour.

Keeping it cordial
As is the case with any classic, arguments rage over how the Gimlet should be made.

First appearing in Harry MacElhone’s 1922 edition of Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails, the original recipe called for equal parts gin and Rose’s Lime Cordial.

As Raymond Chandler wrote in The Long Goodbye, ‘A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats Martinis hollow.’

Since then, proportions have swung in favour of the gin, thanks to the drying out of drinkers’ palates. And some even – whisper it – call for the drink to be made with fresh lime juice.

‘It really should be made with lime cordial, Rose’s preferably, of course,’ opines Jake Burger of The Distillery in Notting Hill and Portobello Road Gin.

‘Fresh lime and sugar is a perfectly nice drink, but it’s not a Gimlet, it’s a Daiquiri. It should have a new name like a Fresh Lime Gimlet. I’m always a bit disappointed if I get a Gimlet with fresh lime and sugar.’

Much of the argument appears to fixate on Rose’s Lime Cordial, a brand that was established in 1867 after Lauchlan Rose worked out how to preserve lime juice using sugar instead of alcohol, as citrus juice needed to be carried on ships.

Some claim that the Gimlet was originally made with fresh lime juice, which surely would make no sense given that the cordial was created 55 years before the first citation of the cocktail.

What I suspect also further muddies the water is the fact that Rose’s is a completely different product in the US compared to the one we enjoy in the UK. Rose’s is owned by Coca-Cola this side of the pond and a spokesperson for the company told me that they’re fairly sure the recipe hasn’t really changed since it was first created. Changes in ownership over the last 150 years means they can’t be completely certain, however.

In America, Dr Pepper Snapple holds the reins and the recipe is rather different, with the list of ingredients including high fructose corn syrup and sodium metabisulfite. The compromised quality of the product means that US bartenders won’t touch Rose’s with a 10-foot pole, so make their Gimlets with either fresh lime or homemade cordials.

With all drinks ideas being shared across the globe in nanoseconds thanks to the internet and social media, the proliferation of lime-juice-and-sugar-based recipes coming from America probably doesn’t help matters.

Lime both ways
One bartender who chose to ignore all the arguments surrounding juice versus cordial is Carl Brown, daru-walla (drinks man) at Indian café/restaurant group Dishoom, who opted to use both in his venerated East India Gimlet.

His version, mixing gin, Rose’s, fresh lime, dill and celery bitters, is a masterclass in adding the most subtle of hints to elevate a drink while staying true to its DNA. The herbal hint of dill acts as an intriguing base note to the high-pitched whine of the citrus.

‘Everyone seems to create Gimlets in different ways and has their opinion on how to do it right,’ explains Brown. ‘Most stir their Gimlets. I shake mine. I felt that the shake super chills the drink consistently, and consistency is vital at Dishoom. It also adds a light, airy texture to the drink. Finally, it adds layers, allowing different flavours to reveal as you drink.

At the end of the day, it’s traditionally a two-ingredient drink. Switching the flavour of the cordial is the obvious choice

‘I wanted to go for a 50:50 mix of cordial to gin. The balance is far more dependent on the abv of the gin and its botanicals than cutting the cordial down and removing what is essentially the main flavour. The fresh citrus helps control and balance the cordial.’

Do the twist
Twisting a Gimlet can be as easy or as difficult as you decide to make it. At the end of the day, it’s traditionally a two-ingredient drink.

Switching the flavour of the cordial is the obvious choice – Burger mentions a rhubarb cordial that is used in a version at The Distillery, while Kal Ruparell of 33 Cank Street in Leicester creates a pine cordial every year using his Christmas tree. Or you could switch the spirit.

One bar that’s made a real feature of the Gimlet is Mint Gun Club in London’s Stoke Newington, with three versions always featuring at the top of its menu.

Priced at £5, pre-batched and diluted, kept in the freezer and served in frozen liqueur glasses, they’re the best bite-sized sharpener since the Snaquiri.

Each of these three staple recipes are bibulous perfection, but it’s the Rudie’s, made with overproof Jamaican rum, shiso tonic cordial and St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, that steals the show.

The ripe banana and pineapple of the rum leap out of the glass, while the green notes of the shiso wrap around the fruit, lifting it to another dimension. The clarity of flavour rings out like a bell.

The Rudie’s may be a world apart from your usual gin-and-lime-cordial concoction on paper, but its DNA is essentially the same.

As the Gimlet’s star continues to rise and you, no doubt, work on your own twist, it’s worth remembering what Declan McGurk, bar manager for the American Bar at the Savoy, says: ‘What is a Gimlet really? It’s a two-part spirituous drink with an acidic edge to it.’

I’d like to think that the country will go as gaga for the Gimlet as it did the Negroni at some point in the near future. After all, the odds are stacked in its favour: it’s a gin drink; is one of the easiest drinks to make; and most importantly, it’s accessible, sharp, fresh and gone in a flash.

Cordial or no cordial? 

Zingy Stardust
By the Scarfes Bar team
Glass: Coupette
Garnish: None
Method: Shake and fine strain.
50ml Absolut Elyx
25ml Zingy Cordial (fresh lime juice, zara lebu skin, lemongrass, shiso,
kaffir lime leaves and caster sugar)
3 dashes Electric Bitters

East India Gimlet
By Carl Brown for Dishoom
Glass: Coupette
Garnish: Sprig of dill
Method: Combine and shake hard. Fine strain.
40ml Portobello Road Gin
40ml Rose’s Lime Cordial
2.5ml fresh lime juice
1 small sprig fresh dill
2 dashes Bitter Truth Celery Bitters

By Richard Hunt for Mint Gun Club
Glass: Frosted liqueur glass
Garnish: Micro purple shiso
Method: Make cordial. Batch by blending cordial, rum, St Germain and water.
Keep in freezer at its minimum setting.
15ml shiso tonic cordial
35ml Rum-Bar Overproof Rum
15ml St-Germain
Elderflower Liqueur

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