by Ken Walczak
Ok, so usually I leave the DIY beat to Matt. But to quote a favorite scene from one of the seminal films of my generation: “this is different; this is important.” I’ve finally solved my Gimlet dilemma, and all it took was some homemade lime cordial.
But let’s start from the beginning. The beginning is where I met the Gimlet, actually – when I was first learning to drink and appreciate cocktails. The Gimlet is perfect for those with few ingredients or supplies on hand and no idea which drink to learn about first. It’s simple, approachable, and made from readily available ingredients. Basically, you buy a bottle of gin and some lime cordial and you’re good to go. Not familiar with lime cordial? Sure you are. It’s that little 12-ounce bottle at your neighborhood grocery store, right next to the strong stuff, possibly buried beneath the club soda, grenadine, and sulfur-bathed cherries. See the one marked “Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice”? That’s it, right there.
(I should mention this, before we go any further: if you want to mix vodka and limes together in some proportion and call that a Gimlet, go right ahead. Free country and all that. I just won’t be saying anything more about “vodka Gimlets” here, except that I hope you like yours very much, and that you make yourself another and find you like that one, too, and then you find yourself ordering them when you go out, and that you keep ordering them, one vodka Gimlet after another, until eventually you see someone order one with gin, and you wonder about how that would taste. So you order it that way for a change … and you find that you absolutely adore your first “gin Gimlet” – Such a refreshing change! So many more flavors! – and you follow it up with an Aviation or a Tom Collins, and later a Pegu Club, and then before you know it you’re shaking your head sadly and biting your bottom lip with your front teeth when that annoyingly chipper airport terminal barkeep is shaking – shaking, mind you! – your Martini, and you really don’t want to say anything, let alone risk the chance that he’ll re-make it and do something even worse to it, but he is going to charge you $15 for the damned thing and you wanted it to taste like gin and a little vermouth, not like ice, dammit! And then I’ll look over at you and nod sympathetically – what? I might be hanging around the same airport bar. You never know! It could happen! – and we can both have a nice, hearty laugh and remember that the less said about the “vodka Gimlet,” the better. Ok, back to the column.)
There’s something really wonderful about a Gimlet made with good old Rose’s lime. The sweetness pulls you in, the gin knocks you around or smooths you out, maybe both, and the tartness keeps puts a happy little twinge at the back of your taste buds, to pop up a day or two later and remind you that, hey, Happy Hour is coming up soon – and wouldn’t another Gimlet be just the thing?
Back in those early days of cocktail exploration, my atlas was Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, by Paul Harrington, aka The Alchemist. So I’ve generally mixed my Gimlets the Alchemist way: 2 ¼ ounces gin; ¾ ounce Rose’s lime; stirred and served up. Add a dash of bitters if you’re feeling frisky (or as the Alchemist puts it, if you’re in need of “a pick-me-up for the soul”). Delicious.
Plus the Gimlet has a bad-ass pedigree. Phillip Marlowe drinks Gimlets in The Long Goodbye. It doesn’t get more respectable than that.
But what the Alchemist doesn’t mention is that Rose’s isn’t quite the same product it was in the hard-boiled Fifties. Since Chandler wrote about the lime cordial’s seductive “pale greenish yellowish misty look,” Food Science has intervened. Like seemingly all of the products featured in Food Inc. and Super-Size Me, Rose’s lime is chock full of high-fructose corn syrup. Sure, it’s tangy and sweet, but it’s also kind of slimy and gross and high-calorie and industrial – not to mention symbolic of all of the 21st century epidemics those movies taught us to fear. And who wants to spend Happy Hour thinking about obesity, diabetes, and our nation’s ass-backwards, blindly pro-agribusiness farm policy? Aren’t we drinking to avoid thinking about that kind of thing?
Maybe for those reasons, maybe for others, the trend lately has been to serve gimlets with fresh lime juice and a dash or two of simple syrup. Adorably, the Alchemist calls this a “Gimblet.” I wouldn’t recommend ordering it that way, personally. (Unless your favorite bar happens to be named something like Corporal McCutesky’s Plushy Paradise. In which case, you’ve probably got issues a Gimlet can’t solve.)
Unfortunately, I’ve never been quite happy with the fresh-lime solution. Bartenders never seem to arrive at the right proportions, the drink is never quite tangy enough, and the texture just seems off. A fresh-juice gimlet just doesn’t leave quite the same twinge, making me crave another during my next visit.
So what’s the contemporary, corn-syrup-averse cocktail connoisseur to do? Why, hit the stove, of course! I found my Goldilocks Gimlet (not too light, not too syrupy … but just right) using this recipe from my friend and former Spirit World colleague Sonja Kassebaum:
- 1 1/2 cups Water
- 3/4 cup Sugar
- 3/4 tsp Citric Acid
- 3/8 tsp Tartaric Acid
- Juice of 5-6 good-sized limes, preferably organic (you’re using the rind here, and it can hold all sorts of chemicals)
- Rind of 2 limes, cut into pieces
Stir sugar, citric acid and tartaric acid together with a whisk. Bring water to a boil, then add sugar mixture. Stir thoroughly to dissolve sugar mixture into water. Add lime juice and rind, and stir. Heat mixture for 1-2 minutes on high heat, then cover and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight in a sealed container, then strain out lime rind. Refrigerate for another day before using (the flavor continues to change a bit). Stored in the refrigerator, it should keep better than simple syrup.
* = DIY FYI: you can order citric acid and tartaric acid from Amazon. If someone is likely to sign for your packages (like a landlord or your roommate), make sure to assure them that these are foodstuffs, not components for a homemade explosive device. No one likes coming home to bomb-sniffing dogs.
Following Sonja’s lead (from the comments on her original blog piece), I increased the lime in my homemade cordial, from the juice of 4 limes to the juice of 5-6 (depending on size). The lime cordial I made turned out sweet but subtle, and pleasantly tart. It had just the tang I’d been missing in the fresh-juice variant, and I didn’t miss the texture of the corn syrup one bit. (Although in the next batch I would likely up the sugar, too. Maybe a full cup?)
Conveniently, Sonja is also the mastermind behind North Shore Distillery, whose botanical-heavy Gin No. 6 may be my all-time favorite Gimlet gin. If you like the cordial recipe as much as I did, you can thank Sonja by mixing a:
- 1 ½ oz. North Shore Gin No. 6
- 1 oz. homemade lime cordial
- Dash bitters (optional)
Stir and serve up, with a squeeze of fresh lime.
If you really like the cordial recipe, you can go all the way to equal parts gin and cordial – proportions blessed by Mr. Chandler himself. To quote the Alchemist, quoting Chandler’s “war-scarred sot” Terry Lennox in The Long Goodbye: “A real Gimlet … is half gin and half [lime cordial], and nothing else. It beats Martinis hollow.”
I’ll drink to that.