The classic Gimlet is one of the simplest cocktails to make. Its original form consisted of equal parts gin and lime cordial—traditionally, Rose’s lime cordial. But since the contemporary craft cocktail movement began to champion fresh ingredients rather than store-bought bottles, many bartenders now make their Gimlets with gin, freshly squeezed lime juice and simple syrup, ditching the Rose’s.
While the Gimlet’s popularity began to blossom in the 1980s due to vodka’s rise to prominence (at which point vodka took over as the preferred spirit in most cocktails, the Gimlet no exception), it has been around since the mid-1800s. The cocktail’s origins can be traced back to the British Royal Navy, which is credited with multiple classics, although the navy’s creation of mixed drinks was a matter of necessity rather than recreation, as citrus was used to mitigate scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency.
By 1867, the Merchant Shipping Act made it mandatory for all ships to stock lime juice onboard to prevent the disease. Initially, the juice was fortified with rum to increase its shelf life, but a shipyard owner by the name of Lauchlin Rose patented a more stable recipe that preserved the lime juice with sugar rather than alcohol, and Rose’s lime cordial was born.
The Gimlet first appeared in print in 1923 in legendary bartender Harry MacElhone’s “Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails,” where the recipe calls for a mix of half Plymouth gin and half Rose’s lime juice cordial, stirred with or without ice.
Contemporary bartenders have developed many variations of this simple gin drink over the last few decades. These are seven recipes for the classic Gimlet and variations that go far beyond the most simple iteration.
This most contemporary rendition of a classic Gimlet calls for a large measure of gin plus a small splash each of simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice. Since the gin is so prominent an ingredient in this drink, the one you use matters nearly as much as it does in a Martini, so use a high-quality one with the botanicals you most prefer.
The South Side can be traced back to at least 1916, when it appeared in Hugo Ensslin’s “Recipes for Mixed Drinks” as the South Side Fizz. This version calls for gin, lemon and lime juices, sugar, mint and club soda. As with many classics, a couple of ingredients were dropped along the way, namely the soda and lemon juice, to produce the contemporary South Side. The historic and now-shuttered 21 Club in New York City was known to have popularized this mint-laced Gimlet riff, and it’s especially popular in NYC (and nearby vacation enclaves) because of the restaurant’s influence.
This cocktail is everything that you’d expect it to be and not one ingredient more. It’s a straightforward three-ingredient combination of vodka, lime juice and simple syrup. It’s incredibly easy-drinking and best when the ingredients are fresh. For extra credit, add some herbs to the shaken mix for extra depth of flavor.
The Gimlet is such a refreshing drink that it makes sense to double-down on that quality by adding muddled cucumbers to the classic mix of gin, lime juice and simple syrup for a sweetly vegetal note. The cucumber is best accented by a light, floral gin, such as Hendrick’s, with its notes of rose and, yes, cucumber. Don’t forget to add a cucumber wheel as a garnish for additional vegetal aromatics.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
Palo Santo Gimlet
Alex Kratena, the co-owner of London’s high-concept cocktail bar Tayer + Elementary, developed this unusual riff on the classic Gimlet after being inspired by palo santo wood during a trip he took to the Amazonian jungle. It is popular in fragrances and has a distinct musky aroma, so Kratena and his team wanted to rework the typical Gimlet template to create something thought-provoking for guests. His take on the classic combines a homemade palo santo cordial with English gin, Lillet blanc and fino sherry. Straddling the line between a Gimlet and Martini, it provides a great example of how far the boundaries can be stretched for classics.
Pink Peppercorn Botanical Gimlet
This variation builds on the classic formula with a handful of new ingredients, including vibrant pink peppercorns and agave nectar instead of sugar. Here, gin gets replaced by crowd-pleasing vodka, specifically Square One botanical vodka, which is distilled from organic rye and water and infused with chamomile, citrus peel, coriander, lavender, lemon verbena, pear, rose and rosemary. Don't forget the fresh lime juice, the key ingredient for any Gimlet.
Cucumber, Basil & Lime Gimlet
Building on the refreshing Cucumber Gimlet by adding basil’s herbaceous depth and complexity, this Gimlet variation is super in the warmer seasons. Cucumber and basil are muddled together before getting joined by vodka, lime juice and a splash of lemonade. It goes down easily, so be prepared to make a second round soon after the first.