A cocktail featuring gin, lime juice, sugar and water, the Gimlet was first written about in the Portsmouth Evening News on Friday the 13th in May of 1927. The story reported a naval lieutenant was arrested for driving drunk and admitted he “might have had 6 or 7 gimlets.” However, the Gimlet has been around much longer, as a word-of-mouth tradition passed down over time.
Plymouth Gin Navy Strength was already on British Royal Navy boats slaking thirsts and reigniting ammunition, and Angostura bitters helped settle seasickness, but there was no on-board assistance for scurvy, an ailment caused by a lack of vitamin C—until 1753, when Royal Naval Surgeon James Lind figured out that citrus was quite effective in staving off scurvy. By 1799, the Navy had adopted his findings.
At first, sugar was mixed with fresh lemon juice, made from lemons grown on the island of Sicily. The strategy worked, and from 1806 to 1810, only two scurvy sufferers were admitted to the naval hospital (compared to thousands in years past). Eventually, Sicilian lemon juice was replaced by the more acidic West Indian lime juice (which, it was later learned, had a mere one-quarter of the vitamin C that lemon juice had).
In 1867, Lachlan Rose patented a method for preserving citrus juice without the use of alcohol. In that same year, Parliament passed the Merchant Shipping Act, requiring all navy vessels to provide a daily ration of lime juice to sailors while at sea. With Rose’s Lime Cordial now on board all navy ships, someone got the wise idea to mix it with Plymouth Gin Navy Strength. Medical officer Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette is generally credited with the drink’s invention.
The only problem is, Gimlette was just ten years old when Rose’s was first ordered aboard all boats. Still, as with many cocktails, the Gimlet’s impossible legend has become an oft-repeated fact.