Part and parcel to the contemporary cocktail revival was the total eschewal of artificial ingredients in favor of freshly squeezed juices and freshly made syrups. For the gin- or vodka-based Gimlet, this meant saying goodbye to Rose’s sweetened lime juice, a bottled cordial codified in the original recipe. In turn, what was once a two-ingredient stirred drink became a shaken gin sour, made instead with fresh lime juice and simple syrup.
But today, the Gimlet has come full circle. Bartenders challenging the dogma that fresh is always best are once again embracing the classic Gimlet template as it was recorded in 1922 in Harry MacElhone’s Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails—only this time, they’re using their own cordials.
“Playing around with cordials is far better than using fresh juice because they have a longer shelf life, and you can flavor them in a variety of ways,” says Will Rogers, head of beverages at London’s SOMA, a minimalist cocktail bar that serves a stirred, Martini-like Gimlet made with curry leaf cordial, Opihr gin, makrut lime leaf and pink peppercorn.
At Wax On in Berlin, nearly half of the cocktails on the menu incorporate a type of flavored cordial, all of which consist of a blend of juice, sugar and acid powders, clarified using Dave Arnold’s agar-agar technique. Wax On’s house Gimlet is built on a foundation of vodka and lime cordial, augmented with mezcal, cardamom distillate, peach bitters and liqueur for a layered take on the classic. “Cordials offer so much diversity to your drink while being totally easy to produce,” says Sam Orrock, the bar’s co-founder.
But not all stirred Gimlets stray quite so far from the simplicity of the original. Alba Huerta’s Gimlet, for example, marries navy-strength gin with a cordial made by combining sugar, water and sun-dried limes. Likewise, at London’s Seed Library, the latest of the Mr Lyan group of bars, the simple Coriander Seed Gimlet, as the name suggests, leans on a coriander seed cordial for a delicate twist that accentuates the botanicals of the gin. “The [drink] explores what citrus layers mean to a classic Gimlet,” says Alex Lawrence, brand director for Mr Lyan. “The wonderful musty citrus flavor from the seeds creates a complex but intuitive profile with the gin.”
Lawrence notes that there’s plenty of room for experimentation when creating cordials for a Gimlet—or any cocktail for that matter—so long as they strike the right balance between acidity and sweetness. “The DNA needs to remain so that we can push on the fringes of familiarity to create new and interesting drinks,” says Lawrence, who recommends looking beyond acid powders and citrus juice to less expected forms of acid, like vinegar or kombucha, to balance the sugar.
Though it may be considered avant-garde by those who’ve embraced the Daiquiri-like shaken Gimlet, Rogers notes that the stirred version is on the rise. “It’s like the Negroni 10 years ago,” he says. “New to most drinkers then, but now you can find it served in every pub in London.”