A simple, classic cocktail—just gin (or vodka), lime, and sugar—the gimlet is one of the gems among classic cocktails, with a long history stretching from the high seas to Madison Avenue. Light green, lime-forward, and exquisite when well-balanced, this gin sour is equal parts refreshing and scurvy-preventing—who doesn’t require both?
What's the History of the Gimlet?
Like every other classic cocktail, the gimlet comes with a handful of competing origin stories. The most credible is its creation, in the 1880s, at the hands of Royal Navy surgeon Sir Thomas Gimlette, who encouraged his mates to take their gin rations with a healthy dash of scurvy-preventing lime juice. Lauchlin Rose’s lime juice cordial, invented just a decade earlier, helped make that possible, at the same time sweetening the drink and preserving the citrus.
As for its origins, you can think of the gimlet as a sweet gin rickey (without the soda water), or another in a long line of descendants of the sour, one of the main cocktail families. Originally a 50-50 mix of gin and lime cordial, modern preferences for drier (better balanced) drinks have seen the proportion of lime cordial track ever downward.
Gin Gimlet or Vodka Gimlet?
This is going to be a question that only you can answer, as opinions are many and they are strong.
Unless you specifically request vodka, most bartenders will likely serve this with gin, for good reason. It is the gin that makes this a balanced, more soulful drink with a soupçon of complexity, elegance, and even strength. A great gimlet depends on the balance between juniper (from the gin) and fresh citrus: Too much of the former, and it is overly stiff; too much of the latter, and it is too tart. To a gin purist, vodka would be like signing yourself up for a boring blind date.
To the vodka camp, gin talks a bit too much, dominates the conversation; preferable are the more subtle airs of a good, clean, ice-cold vodka.
What's the Best Gin for a Gimlet?
Your old-school gimlets were all made with Plymouth gin, a unique style of gin so special it was called for by name in 20+ recipes in the Savoy Cocktail Book, and so beloved by the British Royal Navy that they commissioned a higher proof version known now as “Navy Strength.”
Plymouth is drier than London Dry gins, but more citrusy and even botanical than most. It has enough character to guarantee some personality to even a sour.
But a crisp, dry London-style gin like Tanqueray, Beefeater, or Gordon’s also make for good choices. Save your more delicate or aromatic gins, like Hendrick’s, for spare cocktails like a Martini, where those subtleties can be appreciated.
What's the Best Vodka (If You Go That Route)?
The same thinking holds true here, too: Save your Grey Goose for another occasion. Smirnoff is a perfectly fine choice. That said, feel free to venture off toward Ketel One, with its hints of honey and subtle cracked black pepper, or even Tito’s with its clean minerality and grain character.
Fresh Lime Juice or Rose's?
After deciding between gin or vodka (though there is only one proper answer to the above, and it rhymes with “win”), your choice of how to sour and sweeten this drink is most critical.
Historically, the gimlet is made only with Lauchlin Rose’s original formula for a lime cordial—commonly available as Rose’s Lime Juice. But while original recipes and those of the many gimlet originalists all call for Rose’s Lime Cordial, the Rose’s of today is much changed from Lauchlin’s original, with high-fructose corn syrup and additives that wouldn’t make it through the door of most craft cocktail bars.
The recipe below substitutes Rose’s for a “quick lime cordial” hack, combining fresh lime juice with a simple syrup and fresh lime zest. If you’re set on using Rose’s, mix one ounce of Rose’s sweetened lime juice with a half ounce of fresh lime juice.
Any Fun Variations on the Gimlet?
- The Richmond Gimlet, a creation of Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s, simply includes mint shaken with the same ingredients mentioned below.
- A Basil Gimlet, muddling the basil leaves with either a simple syrup or agave nectar, will be slightly herbal and more than a little refreshing.
- Vodka Gimlet: The default for some, this should still count as a variation, and one not without its own great qualities.
- Ancho Gimlet: This slightly spicy version would incorporate Ancho Reyes Verde, a peppery Mexican liqueur.
More Beloved Classic Cocktails
- 3/4 ounce simple syrup
- Zest from one fresh lime (optional)
- 2 ounces gin (Plymouth Dry Gin or Tanqueray)
- 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
Prep simple syrup:
Make a simple syrup with a 1:1 sugar and hot water ratio (see more here), steeping the lime zest in it for 10 minutes in a nonreactive container. Fine-strain this after 10 minutes, and refrigerate what you do not use today.
Combine the gin, simple syrup, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake for about 30 seconds, or until a frost forms on the shaker.
Strain and serve:
Double strain into a chilled coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.