The Bar Cart: The Bitter Gimlet

For those of you who tuned in for yesterday’s Heritage Radio Network interview, here’s the gimlet recipe I teased on the show. For those who didn’t catch the talk live, click the link and have a listen!

Once I moved past my college-girl preferences for amaretto sours, the gimlet became my drink of choice. More debonair to sip from a martini glass and far less embarrassing to order at swank Chicago bars, it seemed like the thing a chic, professional gal on the town would drink (even if said professional gal was nothing but an impoverished grad student and even if she also copped to a fondness for vanilla vodka mixed with Coke—hey, it sort of tasted like cake! I was 22!)

Somewhere along the way, as my paycheck grew, my tastes expanded, and I discovered Boulevardiers, single-malt Scotch, and classic Champagne cocktails, my love for the gimlet faded into the background. Sugary drinks were no longer my bag, baby, and an iced-down glass of sickly-sweet Rose’s lime cordial no longer hit the spot the way it did in my early 20s.

gin gimlet cocktail
Time, then, to reclaim the gimlet from its nostalgic purgatory and pull it back into my repertoire of go-to drinks. However, it now might be one of those cocktails I only drink when I’m at home. A gimlet consists of only two ingredients—gin (or vodka, which is how I drank them after one too many evenings with bottom-shelf nasty cheap juniper-reeking stuff) and lime cordial. Though it’s true that any bartender with a bottle of Rose’s at his disposal can make a passable gimlet, it’s once again proven true that fresh, homemade mixers take the cocktail from decent to devastatingly good.

And unless you suffered a debilitating gin incident in your formative boozing years, I strongly urge you to take your hands off the vodka bottle and try the gimlet as it was originally intended to be consumed. But choose your gin wisely; I tend to stay away from the juniper-heavy versions like Tanqueray or Gordon’s, and prefer a smooth gin with a “cleaner” taste. Plymouth gin is the traditional pairing for this simple drink, but I’ve been sneaking my beloved Death’s Door, with its subtle aromatic blend, into the mix too.

(By the by, though the story’s been re-told everywhere, including respectable places like the Wall Street Journal, the British National Maritime Museum says it’s completely apocryphal that the gimlet was invented to prevent scurvy in the Royal Navy. But it’s a fun tale, nonetheless.)

homemade lime cordial
And since I’m making my own lime cordial, I’ll tweak tradition just slightly further by adding a few shakes of citrus bitters to the gimlet, like those from Brooklyn’s Hella Bitters. It doesn’t take a lot, but the bitters give the drink a titch more depth, highlighting and blending the herbal notes of the gin with the tart tones of the lime cordial. It’s one of those little touches that make a big difference—and that make people think you can mix a really good cocktail.

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  1. says

    I totally agree, homemade mixers are so much better than the ultra food coloring infused versions. The way the sun is out right now I could go for one out on the back porch at work… that wouldn’t be wrong would it? :)