With that faintly upper-crust-sounding moniker, I always envisioned the gimlet as the sophisticated swingin’ uncle to the vodka tonic. In truth, it’s more like a distraught parent, with a host of prodigal children bearing little family resemblance. The company behind Rose’s Lime Juice claims that the ’80s and ’90s found this classic transformed into the Kamikaze, beloved sorority-house shooter, and the Cosmo, a Gimlet girly-style, served up straight with Cointreau and cranberry juice.
The original can boast so many offshoots because it’s composed of only two ingredients: gin and Rose’s Lime Juice, shaken with ice and served straight up or over the rocks. Cocktail purists who proselytize on the importance of fresh ingredients amusingly enough insist that this is the one drink that should be made with Rose’s instead of the real thing—in deference to the Gimlet’s founding fathers. Officers of the British navy would mix their gin rations with the preserved and sweetened lime juice. Rose’s was drunken on board to prevent scurvy, and it’s possible the cocktail’s name comes from the small hand tool used for boring holes, also called the gimlet (apparently, it was attached to lime juice containers). “There’s nothing wrong with fresh lime juice and gin, but I wouldn’t call it a gimlet,” says Dave Wondrich, Esquire‘s resident cocktail guru. “It might be a better drink, but it wouldn’t be a gimlet.”
Raymond Chandler’s right there with him. Chandler’s story, The Long Goodbye, immortalized not only the gimlet, but its sore impersonations, courtesy of character Terry Lenox’s rants. “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.” No one’s suggesting that much Rose’s, although you can get a gimlet and all its authentic glory at most bars, and definitely at old-school establishments like King Cole, Bemelmans, and Campbell Apartment.
Even though it’s no longer within textbook realm, the bastardized take is still preferred by many, as it’s considerably less syrupy-sweet. The more Rose’s you use, the more corn syrup and preservative you’re spiking your drink with. “I use mainly fresh lime juice, with just a spot of the Rose’s,” says Mika Jones, a bartender at Tile Bar. With only Rose’s, “it doesn’t even taste like lime.” She also likes to sometimes drink it with tequila: “it’s lighter than a margarita.” We’ve also heard of blood-orange gimlets made with Sauza, that used to be served at Double Happiness and a pomegranate version at Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla. Tribe in the East Village has even taken to putting a “No Rose’s Gimlet” on their menu, with Grey Goose, muddled lime, and sugar. Sounds awesome, but it lacks the austere, film-noir angle of the standard. And a pomegranate gimlet? Philip Marlowe sure didn’t score deadly dames with danger on their plate by ordering that one.