The Chronicles of Gimlet, Part One
The other day, my wife cautioned me that I was beginning to develop a predilection for drinks with names that sound like Hobbits. Had I written The Lord of the Rings, the hairy-toed heroes would have been Grog, Bumbo, and Gimlet. And Samwise, because you have to have Samwise. I guess it’s true, because as of late, I have been obsessed with the Gimlet. Ever since I wrote our original Gimlet post, something has been bothering me, and I decided it was time to confront it head on.
As much as I love the fresh lime juice and simple syrup version of the Gimlet that we include on our Drinks Menu, there is something about it that continues to haunt me. See, for as many bar folk as there are who espouse this variation, there is an equal, if not greater, force gathered under the banner of Rose’s Lime Juice. For these believers, there is simply no Gimlet other than the one made with Rose’s and Gin. The specter that is growing in my heart stems from the fact that, on a certain level, I have begun to agree with them.
As the world of cocktails has been seized by “drinkies” much the same way cuisine was overtaken by foodies, well-enough seems no longer to be good enough. Everything under the sun must be artisanal, local and on the Slow Food Ark. We can’t eat a tomato anymore until we’ve been assured of its 400-year-old Etruscan heritage. I’m as guilty of this as the next convivium member, and it’s this very drink snob who wrote our original Gimlet post. Gin, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup — period. But, as much as I love the fresh juice version, there’s something to be said about the Rose’s drink.
Lineage aside for a moment, the first thing a Rose’s Gimlet has on the fresh lime version is its dryness. If I’m going to have a drink (or two) before a meal, it should be a dry one. Rather than stimulating the appetite, sugar produces the opposite effect. This is why people think of martinis as the way to set the stage for a big, juicy steak. Hand-in-hand with its dryness, the Rose’s Gimlet also boasts a distinct tartness that awakens the palate and makes everything that comes after taste just that much better. Then, of course, there’s said lineage; who am I to argue with Raymond Chandler?
More and more, I found the Rose’s version beckoning me. But, there continued to be one major roadblock: I despise the Rose’s Lime Juice product. What to do? I needed to find some middle ground — some Pax Aurantifolia by which I could unite the two opposing forces. I needed to make a homemade version of Rose’s Lime.
Depending on where you live and where you shop, you can get various versions of Rose’s. The Lime Juice product is alcohol-free and can be sold anywhere. In the USA, it is sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup; in the UK and Canada, apparently, they still use real sugar. In addition, there’s a version called Lime Cordial, which contains alcohol and is, thus, sold in liquor stores. I decided to attack the cordial version.
In the search for lime cordial recipes, one that rises to the surface time and time again is on Wikipedia. This version calls for lime zest, lime juice, citric acid, tartaric acid, and sugar. Overall, it’s a pretty standard take on a lime cordial. I had citric acid on hand (it’s a common ingredient in making preserves and things like pate de fruits), but not tartaric acid. As it seemed that the tartaric acid was mostly used as a preservative, I found a recipe that followed the same basic formula but which eliminated this ingredient. The recipe I used came from Australia (you can find it here), and my thinking was that if anyone had spent time on British navy vessels, it was the Australians. Maybe some great, secret knowledge had been passed down — it was, at least, worth a shot.
As lovely as the Australian recipe was, it was all wrong. It was too bright, and it completely lacked the major profile of Rose’s — dryness, pucker, a funky sourness and aftertaste — for which I was looking. My next step was to replace the white sugar with demerara sugar in one batch and agave nectar in another. Agave nectar has become a popular bar sweetener, and in it, I found the right funky undertone. The citric acid, meanwhile, was bringing the pucker to the mix, but too much of it made the drink taste artificial in the wrong way. I needed another way to bring in the sour.
To extract more out of the lime zest, I decided to cover it overnight with vodka. As I typically “shock” my syrups with a shot of vodka to preserve them and prevent crystallizing, I figured there was no harm in adding it a little earlier in the process. At the same time, I also began to play with the lime juice. Per a recent article by Dave Arnold at the French Culinary Institute, four hour old lime juice tastes better than fresh. I gave that a whirl, as well as some lime juice from the night before. Still, not quite there.
One of the major problems was having to add more sweetener to balance the lime juice. It was time to throw out the baby — I removed fresh juice from the picture. Now, we were getting somewhere. Tweaking the amounts of the zest-infused vodka and the citric acid, I was on the right track. Only one problem remained: a Gimlet made with my newfound “cordial” was still too sweet. As agave nectar is 40% sweeter than sugar, I replaced half of it with basic cane sugar syrup. Voila!
As you’ll see in the picture above, the color and clarity are almost spot on (neither of these were shaken nor stirred). Truth be told, it’s a little lighter and a little cloudier than Rose’s, but it’s danged close. If I had been using real lime juice, I would have needed to clarify it (see this amazing technique from Dave Arnold) — a dry Gimlet seems unappetizing if full of pulp. With my method, I was able to skip this step, which made it even easier to throw together.
Flavor-wise, “Preserved” Lime Syrup v0.1 is still a little too sweet — too sweet to be considered bone dry. It also loses its bite the next day. Whether this is just the mixture settling or the alcohol breaking down the citric acid, I do not know. It’s a work in progress, and I’ve put it out to the eGullet community (link here) for any feedback or suggestions. I’m asking the same of anyone who reads this post.
Overall, I have to admit that, if used immediately, this syrup makes a delicious drink. The pucker, the funk and the aftertaste are all there, and while it’s not a spot-on replacement for Rose’s, I have to continually remind myself that I hate Rose’s. Why would I want to capture it verbatim? Maybe this is a better Gimlet — I honestly don’t think it’s my place to decide. It is middle ground, however. Drier and more tart than the fresh juice version while more “honest” than a Rose’s Gimlet.
“Preserved” Lime Syrup v0.1
3 oz Lime zest-infused Vodka
2 oz Agave Nectar
2 oz Cane Sugar Syrup
0.25 tsp Citric Acid
1) The night before, zest 3-4 limes (I used standard Mexican limes) and cover zest with vodka (I used regular Stoli). Strain the liquid from the zest, and discard the solids.
2) Prepare a 1:1 cane sugar syrup
3) When needed, stir together ingredients to mix.
My proportions are simply for the batch size I made; feel free to scale as needed.
If you make the zest-infused vodka and cane sugar syrup up front (and store them separately), it’s not any more difficult to throw together on the spot than your typical drink. As for the drink itself, the ratio of Gin-to-Rose’s in a modern Gimlet varies depending upon whom you talk to. On Esquire.com, David Wondrich suggests 3 parts Gin to 1 part Rose’s. This is the version I used as my baseline for taste and color. To get something close to this, mix as follows:
Middle Ground Gimlet
2 oz Dry Gin
1 oz “Preserved” Lime Syrup v0.1
Add ingredients to a mixing glass.
Stir with ice.
Strain into a coupe.
I still skip the Garnish.
Are we done? No. I’m convinced that there’s still room for improvement, so at some point, you’ll see a Part Two to this endeavor. Hopefully, those who read this will be inspired to tinker a bit too, and the army of the middle ground will grow. I’ll happily report their efforts as well. Until then, I offer a path not over the mountains nor via the Dwarven mines but straight up the middle — through the Black Gate itself. Drink in hand, of course.