The Gracious Gimlet

“PETER (abruptly). I feel it’s time for a drink. Can I get you one?

DORIS. Thank you, Mr Kyle. I’ll have a gin and lime. There’s the bell by the door.”

Terrence Rattigan, Flare Path

One of the reasons Doris, the Countess in Rattigan’s play set in the second world war, orders a gin and lime is because there isn’t any tonic. Peter orders a pink gin for the same reason.

Literature is positively splattered with references to this simple, elegant knock-your-socks off drink. The best instruction for how to make a gimlet comes in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye:

“The bartender set the drink in front of me. With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look. I tasted it. It was both sweet and sharp at the same time. The woman in black watched me. Then she lifted her own glass towards me. We both drank. Then I knew hers was the same drink.”

How to make a gimlet

Chandler goes on to elucidate,

“We sat in the corner bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. ‘They don’t know how to make them here,’ he said. ‘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. It beats martinis hollow.”

The Savoy Cocktail book specifies Plymouth gin is the one to use.

The good thing about this drink is that because it’s so simple it’s easy to get it right to suit your own taste. I think a little dill, a slice of lime, and ice helps it along. The gin in the fifties when Chandler was writing was stronger so

Quick solution – add more gin until it’s right – try two parts gin to one part Rose’s lime cordial. Still not right? Try three parts, and then four parts gin to one part lime. I like three parts personally but that’s a bit of a whopper alcohol-wise.

Variations on the classic gimlet

Some people substitute the gin for vodka. Others add mint. Yet others add celery bitters.

How to make your own lime cordial

Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich make their own lime cordial (which I’ve adapted to make simpler) from: 60g each of sugar and lime blossom honey; juice and strips of peel from a lime; half a vanilla pod and a small bunch of mint.

Put the sugar, honey, vanilla pod and strips of peel into a saucepan with 180 ml/¾ cup of water and bring to the boil. Skim off foam, remove from the heat, add the mint leaves, cover, and leave to infuse for 20-30 minutes. Strain, add the lime juice, and refrigerate.

This amount makes enough to go with about half a bottle of gin if you go with the two parts gin to one part cordial proportions.


It originates in the tropics – in the same way as the Gin And Tonic it was essentially medicinal. Lauchlan Rose – the inventor of Rose’s lime cordial was a Scottish entrepreneur who was looking for a way to preserve limes – the Vitamin C in limes could combat scurvy which beset sailors on long sea journeys. In 1867 he patented his first cordial and the same year a law was passed specifying that lime juice should be included in the Navy daily rations. David Burton, in The Raj at Table, tells us that the Gimlet was British India’s most famous cocktail. He tells us,

“This was the drink which, according to popular immagination, the British sipped on the verandah while watching the sun sink behind the banyan groves.”


Where does the name come from? A gimlet is a small, screw-tipped tool for boring holes (including holes in barrels of Royal Navy gin and rum). The two share a penetrating sharpness. Even in it’s old-fashioned proportion it won’t be long before this drink begins to penetrate the parts that other drinks don’t reach.

Gimlet in a film

Below is the trailer for The Long Goodbye.

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