I’m not a big drinker of cocktails in general, and I’m even less of a drinker of gin. That being said, cocktails clearly have their place: Less so with food, and more before – or after, or occasionally instead of; as an alternative to beer, when the weather or environs don’t seem conducive to wine; and certainly, as a welcome to guests who have just endured the Bay Area’s northbound assault on wine country on the first Saturday in August, a category which counted my wife’s brother and his family as victims a month or so ago. Gin, for its part, is still rarely my favorite, but I’m being slowly won over by two things: First, I’ve had some exceptional gin cocktails, most recently a crisp, refreshing, and generally excellent Cucumber Collins, with just the right balance of aromatic gin, citrus, sweetness and acidity, at the new SpoonBar here in town – in point of fact, the Cuke Collins was so good, I skipped the other 8 pages of the bar menu and ordered another straightaway; second, gin does exceptional things with lime juice and, as a rule, I can’t get enough limes in my cocktails. I cannot tell a lie, I do in fact have lime trees in the yard.
Thus, with guests on the road, the fog burning off, and a small vat of lavender simple syrup in the fridge, I tooled around with the idea of a lavender-infused Gimlet. If you like odd factoids from history, spend a few minutes reading about the history of the Gimlet at the Thinking of Drinking blog. For our purposes, the salient facts are that (a) the Gimlet, named eponymously for a British naval surgeon in the 1860s, Dr. Gimlette, was invented as a means to get sailors in the Royal Navy to ingest their ration of lime juice, and thereby to prevent scurvy; (b) the historical use of the Rose’s Lime Cordial dates to the same period, when Lauchlan Rose invented Rose’s Lime as a means of preserving the citrus juice for long journeys without the use of alcohol. (One can infer the history of the derogative “Limey” easily enough from there.) You have to love the British sense of irony: Mr. Rose patents a means of preserving lime juice for sailors without the use of alcohol, and a Royal Naval surgeon simultaneously invents a cocktail with which to get sailors to drink it.
Long and sundry is the list of arguments and citations to the effect that a Gimlet must contain Rose’s, but I can’t agree, and I think the argument stops here: The modern-day Rose’s is no longer the same stuff as it was in 1867 (it now includes natural flavors other than lime, artificial preservatives, and – in the US, where I would buy mine – high fructose corn syrup in lieu of sugar). The other thing about Rose’s is, well, it’s kind of disgusting, a bit like the liquid that squirts out of those ill-considered gums and candies my middle daughter is so inconceivably enamored of.
Since Rose’s is basically just sweetened lime juice with preservatives, and since I’m not subject to the uncertainties of 19th century refrigeration technology, I figured, how hard can it be to make a proper lime cordial from fresh lime juice? Equal parts lavender simple syrup and freshly squeezed lime juice (which I passed through a strainer for seeds and pulp), and voila, a fresh, homemade, lavender-infused lime cordial. Mix with an equal part of your favorite gin or vodka for a Gimlet, or add soda water and serve over ice for a quasi-Rickey, and garnish with sprigs of mint, fresh lavender, a lime peel, and a straw, if it’s watered down and over ice. Whichever way go, the perfume of the lavender really plays off of herbal aromatics of the gin, and the limes speak for themselves; you just can’t go wrong.
- Mix about a quarter-cup of equal parts fresh-squeezed limed juice and chilled lavender simple syrup with your favorite gin. I like Sapphire, as I find it less assertive than some gins, so if you like a more pronounced herbaciousness, try something like Junipero. (Gin, more than most liquors, varies greatly in style from brand to brand, so it really comes down to personal preference.)
- For a straight up Gimlet, shake over ice and strain into martini glass or tumbler.
- Or, add 1/2 to 1 cup of water – plain or sparkling (the latter making something like a Ricky) – and serve over ice in a high ball glass or, as I’ve done here, with the cut up limes in a mason jar. This version is highly recommended for a warm weekend afternoon, and would be well-suited to a by-the-pitcher version. I also made a version of the watered-down, over-ice and cut-limes version with Hanger 1 vodka – maybe not quite as interesting or complex as the gin version, but an outstanding cocktail in its own right.
Kampai. Drink copiously when possible, and always responsibly.