Did you know that humans, guinea pigs, and fruit bats are the only animals that don’t produce their own vitamin c?

At first glance, this shocking revelation seems like a major evolutionary design flaw, right? Perhaps. On the bright side, it led to the invention of one of the world’s greatest classic cocktails.

In the late 1880s, scurvy (a lethal disease caused by lack of Vitamin C that killed millions of sailors throughout history) was rampant on British warships. The best preventative medicine at the time was the juice from citrus fruits. The only problem was that fruit often went bad while out at sea. Rose’s Lime Cordial (the precursor to modern-day Rose’s Lime Juice) had just been developed as the world’s first fruit concentrate and was soon the citrus juice of choice on warships.

Turns out the lime juice was a bit tough to swallow. Enter Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette. He understood the easiest way to make anything more drinkable: add liquor. So to help out his shipmates, he added gin to Rose’s Lime Cordial, and boom … in the most unassuming of places, a timeless cocktail was born.

Note: A gimlet was also the name of a hand tool used on ships to pierce barrels of spirits. Some claim the drink was derived from this, but conventional wisdom supports the Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette theory.

Legendary bartender Harry MacElhone, of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, published the first printed recipe of the gimlet in his comprehensive 1923Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails (half Plymouth Gin, half Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial): “Stir, and serve in the same glass. Can be iced if desired.” And then, perhaps as an homage to Gimlette, he added, “A very popular beverage in the Navy.”

This Gimlet recipe worked its way into American literary folklore 60 years ago in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. One of the most oft-cited lines of this American classic takes place between the protagonist Philip Marlowe and Terry Lennox: “A real Gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats Martinis hollow.”

And Ernest Hemingway, an admirer of both Raymond Chandler and all things alcohol, was a Gimlet guy. He was seldom seen on an African safari without his Gordon’s Gin and a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice. More recently, the Gimlet was featured as Betty Draper’s favorite drink on Mad Men.

Modern-day Gimlets have taken some liberties with the original recipe. The popularity of vodka in the late 20th century led to the Vodka Gimlet. And the craft cocktail craze tends to tone down the roses in favor of fresh lime juice and simple syrup and booze up the gin in a three-to-one ratio. Just remember that if you’re ordering an old-school Gimlet, the Rose’s will drown out any subtle aromatics. So maybe save the designer gin for your Martinis.

The Gimlet

The Gimlet

Photo by Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The Gimlet

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 oz. Gin
  • 1/2 oz. Lime Juice
  • 1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
  • Lime Twist (for garnish)

Preparation: Chill cocktail glass and rim with lime wedge. Combine gin, lime juice, and simple syrup in a shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously until the shaker is cold, pour into glass, garnish with lime twist.