The Back Story of
The popular revival of the Gimlet is a clear sign that we’re evolving as a species. No drink in all of mixology has spawned as many popular variations of its theme than the classic Gimlet. Yet, as with most things, the original is still unsurpassed.
The Gimlet is the unfettered combination of gin, vodka, light rum or silver tequila mixed with several splashes of Rose’s Lime Juice and served chilled in a cocktail glass. Squeeze in the juice from a lime wedge and you’ve made one of the bona fide classic cocktails.
The origin of the Gimlet can be traced to Colonial India and the expansion of the British Empires. Sailors in Her Majesty’s Navy needed the ascorbic acid in fruits such as limes to ward off the debilitating effects of scurvy. The L. Rose & Company of Edinburgh, Scotland answered the call.
In 1867, Lauchlin Rose developed and patented a process for preserving fresh lime juice without the use of alcohol. That same year, the Merchant Shipping Act was passed requiring all Royal Navy and Merchant vessels to dispense a daily ration of lime juice. It was this law that brought about the name “Limeys” for British sailors, as well as generated widespread acclaim for life sustaining Rose’s Lime Juice.
Gin and British Navy also enjoy a storied, centuries-old association. In fact, Plymouth Gin has been distilled within walking distance of the Royal Naval base at Plymouth for over 200 years. Officers in Her Royal Majesty’s Navy received a daily ration of gin. The large quantities of gin combined with the close proximity of countless bottles of Rose’s Lime Juice and the urgent need to ward off scurvy and the doldrums sufficiently explains the origins of the Gimlet.
As for the cocktail’s name, the short answer is who knows? A gimlet is a hand tool for drilling small holes, mainly in wood. Certainly seamen working on tall sailing ships would have needed augers like a gimlet. The connection between a hand tool and the drink, however, is a subject for conjecture.
Then there’s Surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette. He was a high-ranking British naval medical officer at the time. How convenient it would have been if he had concocted the Gimlet as an act of civility and in the practice of good medicine. Unfortunately his obituary in The London Times (October 6, 1943) makes no mention of the cocktail. Rather a pity.
The most public declaration regarding the cocktail may well have been delivered by novelist Raymond Chandler who wrote in his 1953 novel The Long Goodbye that “...a real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.” Perhaps one could argue about the proportions, but Chandler certainly had the ingredients down.
Until the late ’60s, the featured performer in the Gimlet was invariably gin. As Americans turned on to vodka, it became the more popularly requested spirit in the Gimlet. During the same time frame the drink became more frequently requested served on the rocks. While there is no accounting for taste, the dynamics of the Gimlet are unparalleled when made with a crisp, full-bodied gin and presented in a chilled cocktail glass.
Movie buffs and Gimlet enthusiasts will be pleased to learn that famed film director Ed Wood’s favorite drink was the Vodka Gimlet. How do we know that? The wacky and utterly fantastic Wood often wrote under the pseudonym “Akdov Telmig,” clearly an affectionate salute to his cocktail of choice.
Perfecting the Gimlet is the first step toward discovering the tantalizing nuances of the Kamikaze and Cosmopolitan. It’s a good deal. Perfect one cocktail and become master of three.
The first step is achieving a balance between the aromatics in the gin and the sweet, tart flavor of the lime juice such that all are perceptible, yet none predominate. Use too little lime juice and the resulting cocktail will lack vigor and the zesty zeal that is the Gimlet’s hallmark. On the other extreme, use too much lime juice and the drink becomes cloying and acerbic.
The traditional portioning is a ratio of three parts gin to one part lime juice. Start there and tweak accordingly. The flavor of the Gimlet will vary slightly depending on the brand of gin you select. Preparing the cocktail with a dry gin will likely require using less lime juice, while a semisweet, more perfumed brand will typically require a larger dose. For that reason, gins with a drier taste profile seem more appropriate for service in Gimlets than their sweeter counterparts.
The venerable Gimlet has earned its niche in the limelight. Few cocktails are as subtle and uncomplicated. To help make the learning curve shorter and less steep, here are the best practices of making America’s best Gimlets.
- Premium Spirits — There is a natural affinity between gin and lime. Maybe they went to camp together, but the zesty, tart flavor of lime seems divinely compatible with gins on both ends of the spectrum. Thus the basis for the Gimlet’s celebrity status. One variation on this theme is featuring a flavored gin in a Gimlet. There are numerous citrus and berry infused brands on the market. Bafferts Mint Gin is an intriguing and delicious choice.
It would be an injustice, however, not to consider exploring your creative options when it comes to which base spirit to feature in the cocktail. The enduring popularity of the Vodka Gimlet is testimony that the drink is capable of achieving greatness using a spirit other than gin.
The list of candidates is relatively long, but again the soundest advice is to always choose to promote a premium brand. In this and most other cases, quality trumps all other considerations.
One delicious variation of the Vodka Gimlet is the Raspberry Gimlet. It’s prepared using raspberry-steeped vodka, or if you’d rather not wait the 2-3 days necessary to make an infusion, select from any of the magnificent raspberry-infused vodkas on the market. Successful premium flavored vodkas are similar to an eaux de vie—light, dry and loaded with character. They taste and smell like sun-drenched, vine-ripened fruit.
The universe is plenty big, however, and there are many more creative spirit options. The first family to look at is rum. While close in looks and personality to a Daiquiri, traditionally concocted Rum Gimlets differ from Daiquiris in several key respects. A Rum Gimlet has a more pronounced body and is inherently a sweeter drink than a Daiquiri. The shared attribute between the two cocktails is that pairing the flavor of lime with that of rum is a tried-and-true formula for success.
Once you start to consider the creative possibilities of featuring rum in your next Gimlet the options become almost overwhelming. Even substituting a silver rum for the gin or vodka in the cocktail is a decision loaded with options. For example, a Gimlet made with a Puerto Rican rum like Bacardi or Havana Club will taste markedly different from one based on a silver Jamaican rum, or a super-premium brand of rhum agricole, such as Rhum Clemént, 10 Cane, or Haitian Rhum Barbancourt.
And then there are sophisticated and flavorful añejo rums to consider. Their dark rich hues belie that aged rums are light bodied and ideal for use in Gimlets. Rounding out the stellar cast of players is flavored and spiced rums. For instance, raspberry, coconut and citrus-infused rums are superb in a Gimlet. So are rums with lush, fruit flavors like mango and papaya.
Matching the flavor of tequila and lime juice is also a natural. Using a silver tequila in a Gimlet creates a sleek, clean cocktail more along classic lines, while the prominent oaky and vanilla notes in añejo tequilas add another dimension to the drink. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider basing a Gimlet on mezcal. The light smoke in the finish of most mezcals is an intriguing compliment to the lime flavors.
A burgeoning trend of note is featuring spirits such as shochu, aguardiente, cachaça, grappa, eaux de vie and sake in Gimlets. The pairings are successful because of the simplicity of the drink and each happens to taste great matched with lime juice. The Gimlet is an excellent vehicle to get people to try these lesser known spirits.
- Scratch Mixes — Much of the success of the Gimlet must be credited to the widespread use of Rose’s Lime Juice. It is a consistent, high quality product, semisweet without the slightest trace of bitterness. But at the risk of disagreeing with the great Raymond Chandler, the cocktail does not need to be made with Rose’s Lime Juice. Indeed, a growing trend within the world of Gimlets is to feature a scratch lime mix, both to freshen things up and to add the flair of craftsmanship to the cocktail.
The process of making scratch lime juice is not dissimilar to preparing scratch Margarita mix, only the result needs to be slightly denser and decidedly sweeter. This scratch mix can then also be used in Kamikazes, Cosmopolitans and other cocktails traditionally made with a splash or two of Rose’s Lime Juice.
There are two issues to consider when devising a scratch lime juice. The quality of fresh limes varies depending on the season and the source of the fruit. Sometimes limes are sweet and succulent, other times they’re small, hard and relatively bitter. This variance will result in needing to use more or less sweetener to achieve a consistent taste profile. Basing the recipe on a different variety of fruit, such as key limes or Mexican limes is another creative avenue to consider.
The second consideration is selecting a sweetener. In addition to using granulated white sugar or plain simple syrup, sweetener options include cane syrup, agave syrup, or flavored simple syrup.
- Liqueur Modifiers — Splashing a liqueur into a signature Gimlet is certainly a proven means of creating a bestseller. For example, the Tuaca Gimlet is prepared with an additional splash of the liqueur thus rendering the concoction singularly delicious and satiny smooth. Liqueurs such as Chambord, Amaretto, Kahlúa and ZEN Green Tea are all often relied upon to inject Gimlets with some added pizzazz.
This may take you dangerously close to crossing over into the realm of the Kamikaze. After all, adding a measure of Cointreau to a Gimlet transforms the cocktail into a Kamikaze. Some discretion needs to be exercised here lest you market a cocktail as a Gimlet and what the guest actually receives is a specialty Kamikaze.
- Muddling — Muddling is an expedient and presentation enhancing method of imbuing a specialty Gimlet with a savory array of fresh fruit. Perhaps splashing in a complementary juice or puree will prove to be the final touch you’re looking for. In some quadrants of the universe blending a Gimlet with a base of lime sorbet is just the ticket.
- Garnishing — The lime wedge garnish on the Gimlet accomplishes two objectives. First, and most importantly, it is an additional source of vitamin C. Guests can take the piece of fruit and squeeze the juice into the cocktail if they so choose. It’s also interactive and helps people to become more connected to their cocktails.
Secondly the garnish needs to enhance the appearance of the cocktail, the importance of which should not be underestimated. As in all things, first impressions matter. Take care to use only ample sized wedges of impeccably fresh fruit. An old, dried out piece of fruit floating in a cocktail is unappetizing and creates a poor impression.
In the late ‘70s the Vodka Gimlet morphed into the Kamikaze, an ultra popular cocktail made with vodka, Rose’s lime juice and a shot of Cointreau or triple sec. Even now in its third decade, an icy Kamikaze is a “can’t miss” proposition.
In addition to an enhanced body, balance and utterly sublime taste, the Kamikaze has one other thing going for it that keeps it popular with both mixologists and their adoring public. That’s versatility. The classic cocktail has the great ability to adopt different tastes and clever guises. Following are best practices to making America’s best Kamikazes.
- The Gimlet Base — The place to start when devising a signature Kamikaze is with the recipe for a genuinely magnificent Gimlet and begin tweaking from there. In practical terms, this means the aforementioned secrets of the Gimlet also apply to this cocktail.
While Kamikazes are typically made with vodka, your spirit options are extensive. Flavored vodkas, rums and tequilas are sensational when featured in a specialty Kamikaze. Aged rums and añejo tequilas are viable candidates, as well as the more exotic light spirits, like shochu, aguardiente, cachaça, grappa, eaux de vie and sake. The advice about selecting a premium, moderately dry spirit still applies.
- Proportions — Each component should be in balance with the others. The traditional portioning of a Kamikaze is three parts vodka and one part each of lime juice and orange liqueur. This ratio provides a good jumping off point. The process of tweaking the recipe, as in cooking, is largely where the spark of innovation and brilliance takes place.
- Orange Modifiers — The most often published recipe for a Kamikaze calls for triple sec as the orange modifier. To assess whether yours is an excellent triple sec, splash some into a glass, give it a healthy swirl and taste. Look for a true to fruit orange flavor, smooth medium-weight body and a clean, crisp finish. Anything less and you should consider making a change.
Blue Curaçao is a popular choice in Kamikazes because of its almost incandescent blue color. The orange liqueur is slightly sweeter than triple sec. A Kamikaze made with Blue Curaçao instead of the triple sec is called a Divine Wind Kamikaze.
The preeminent Curaçao liqueur is Cointreau. Created in 1849, super-premium Cointreau is crafted from a blend of oranges from Spain, France, Brazil and South America. The crystal clear liqueur is flawless.
In addition to the cache associated with Cointreau, the liqueur will contribute greatly to the cocktail’s bouquet and taste, but will leave the color of the cocktail unaffected.
Kamikazes take on an entirely different dimension when modified with super-premium Grand Marnier. The French classic liqueur is made by macerating the peels of bitter Haitian oranges in Fine Champagne cognac. The result is sublime perfection. Using Grand Marnier as the orange modifier in a specialty Kamikaze will augment the cocktail’s color and introduce the complementary flavor of brandy.
There are other exceptional brandy-based orange liqueurs to choose from, each of which will elevate the taste of the finished Kamikaze. It’s a select international group comprised of Italian GranGala, Mandarine Napoléon from Brussels and Hardy Extase X.O. from France. As is the case with specialty Margaritas, one available option is to split the orange modifiers and use both Cointreau and one of the brandy-based liqueurs.
- Liqueur Modifiers — Take your Kamikazes to the next level by splashing in a liqueur or two. Popular examples include the Purple Kami, which is made using raspberry-flavored vodka and Chambord instead of the triple sec and the Cranberry Kami featuring Stoli Cranberi Vodka and a liberal dose of all-world PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur.
- Scratch Mixes — Like the Gimlet, specialty Kamikazes can also be crafted using scratch lime mix instead of a bottled lime juice. Because of the added dimension of the cocktail, you have more maneuvering room when modifying the base lime mix than with the Gimlet. So feel free to add in complementary flavored juices, purees and syrups, to name but a few. It’s a wise course of action. Concocting a delicious scratch mix goes a long way in creating the best drinks.
- Garnishing — The standard garnish on the Kamikaze is a generous piece of fresh lime cut into a wedge. The wedge shape facilitates guests squeezing the lime juice into their cocktails. Lime wheels are just for show; lime wedges are the workingman’s garnish. Kamikazes, however, are also often embellished with long orange peel spirals, slices and orange wheels. Have fun and finish off the cocktail with pizzazz.
The Cosmopolitan burst onto the scene in the early 1990s and has been a player ever since. Using the Kamikaze as the creative role model, the Cosmopolitan is constructed with citrus-infused vodka, Cointreau, lime juice and a splash of cranberry juice. It’s then stirred and strained into a cold cocktail glass and presented with an ample wedge of fresh lime.
A snapshot of the Cosmopolitan quickly reveals the four components, zesty citrus-flavored vodka, the brilliant orange flavor of Cointreau, the sweet/sour taste of the lime base mix and the tart exuberance of cranberries. The Cosmopolitan sparked a creative boom to drink making.
- The Kamikaze Base — Many of the best practices in making great Cosmopolitans are the same as the Kamikaze. The cocktail can be made with scores of different premium light spirits. The cosmo reached celebrity status on the back of Absolut Citron, a preeminent brand of citrus-infused vodka. The vibrant spirit gave the drink added character and flavor dimension.
Preparing a Cosmopolitan with a brand of neutral vodka often results in a flat and disappointing cocktail. With that one possible exception, nearly all other light spirits with discernible taste can be featured in a Cosmopolitan. In addition, there are boatloads of new flavored vodkas and rums to experiment with. The same is also true for aged rums, añejo tequilas and spirits such as shochu, aguardiente, cachaça and sake.
The cocktail soared to prominence with Cointreau and it remains the most often relied upon modifier. Sample Cointreau neat and you’ll better appreciate why it is a timeless classic.
But once again one need not feel limited with respect to selecting flavor enhancing modifiers. Grand Marnier, GranGala and Mandarin Napoléon are right at home in a Cosmopolitan. Blue Curaçao is also frequently selected for service. Not only does it add the right amount of orange flavor to the cocktail, but it also has a special affect on the cocktail’s presentation.
While the cocktail attained stardom with Rose’s Lime Juice, bottled lime juice is not your only option when it comes to the all-important base mix. Because the Cosmopolitan has such breadth you have more creative latitude when it comes to altering the base.
- Cranberry Juice — How a fruit that grows in bogs can be so delicious is imponderable. Nevertheless, the plucky cranberry has certainly gotten itself a steady gig in the Cosmopolitan. Its light body, tart, crisp flavor and unmistakable reddish hue make a natural ingredient for modifying cocktails.
Even here, there are creative options available to use. Looking to create a Cosmopolitan without its trademark reddish hue? Prepare the cocktail using white cranberry juice. Add a splash of another juice, such as orange, grapefruit, blood orange, grape, pomegranate, or a pomegranate blend.
So here’s to Surgeon Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette (1857-1943), the most likely originator of the Gimlet. His innovation provided the catalyst for the creation of the Kamikaze, which in turn was the inceptive spark that brought us eventually to the Cosmopolitan. Rule Britannia!