Wednesday, September 15, 2010

MxMo: Lime

(This post won't gain me any friends.)

Once again, it's Mixology Monday, and this time around Doug Winship of the Pegu Blog (one of my favorites) is hosting. Doug named his blog after his favorite cocktail, the Pegu Club, an old mainstay that has gin and lime juice, among other things. Accordingly, he has chosen lime as this month's theme. Well, I have brashly decided to use this theme as a flimsy soapbox on which I shall preach and rant. (Winship and the guy, please forgive me.)

You can find the Round-Up for this MxMo here!

Today I'm not talking about lime per se, but rather a product that uses it: Rose's Lime Juice. Rose's Lime Juice is a cordial, which essentially means that it's a sweet fruit-flavored liquid that's meant to be diluted with something. In this case, Rose's Lime Juice is really only used in one popular alcoholic drink: the Gimlet cocktail (A simple combination of Rose's and gin).

Rose's Lime Juice is a controversial product, which I'll address in a second. The stuff is old; it was originally created to prevent scurvy in the British Royal Navy. The recipe has basically been left unchanged over the years (although the modern American version of it uses high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar... this sounds like it would taste worse, but strangely, I came across some British Rose's made with sugar a few years ago, and the stuff was so overwhelmingly sweet that it was essentially unusable in a Gimlet). Its taste is somewhere between a natural lime flavor and those green lolipops you were given as a child. Some say that the sweetness is cloying, that the flavor is of chemicals, and that it's an overall inferior product.

Many people have maligned the Gimlet over the years because of this distaste for Rose's Lime Juice. I'm not going to point fingers, but a simple web search for Gimlet (blog) articles can reveal this opinion. As a result, many people choose to forego the cordial and substitute lime juice and sugar syrup. And that's fine. But please, if you do, don't call it a Gimlet; it may taste delicious, but it doesn't taste like a Gimlet should. Some people (and bartenders), however, choose to make the drink without Rose's and give it the same name, in an attempt to expunge the cordial from modern mixology. Regardless of your politics, THAT is what's called "rewriting history".

There are a few sources which I consider authorities on cocktail recipes, and the Internet Cocktail Database, Robert Hess, and even the Savoy Cocktail book and David Wondrich all call for Rose's in the Gimlet recipe. Hell, even the Mixoloseum, run by a group which consists of some of the most prolific booze bloggers, including Doug Winship himself, calls for Rose's.

This brings to mind a blog post by Matt Hamlin, a blogger here in DC who I've personally met. (Great guy!) Here, he details how good a Gimlet can be with another brand of lime cordial called Employees Only. Matt remarks how "sticklers" insist that a cocktail without Rose's can't be a Gimlet, but also remarks how his taste for Rose's has waned, having liked it previously. As I type this, there is only one comment to Matt's blog post, but it's a poignant one. Arctic Wolf's final sentence in his comment reads: "if I have been making my Gimlets wrong [with lime juice and simple syrup] for all these years…can I really call them Gimlets?"

Recently there have been controversies concerning both the legality and appropriateness of building certain cocktails using only a specific brand of spirit, but the Gimlet's case is not quite the same. (Incidentally, Doug Winship has touched upon that subject here and here.) This isn't really an issue of promoting a specific brand in a recipe that would otherwise be perfectly comparable with substitutes. This is much more akin to the tiki "sticklers" who insist that the elusive (and presently discontinued) Lemon Hart 151 rum can not be substituted without keeping the spirit/character of any recipe that uses it. The same is true here with Rose's. I'll admit, however, that the game changes quite a bit in cases of discontinuation, like Lemon Hart. The recurring problem of discontinuation is a scourge that's touched every corner of the cocktail world and its history. Ultimately, this rant is to preserve history and tradition.

Bottom line: Rose's Lime Juice is an old and unique ingredient on which the Gimlet is based. Its long-standing tradition and singularity are such that if you substitute it for something else in a Gimlet, it's not a Gimlet. Your distaste for Rose's Lime Juice does not give you the right to change the Gimlet. If you make a drink with fresh lime juice, sugar, and gin, please give it a different name... it could be something as simple as the Fresh Gimlet, Natural Gimlet, or even something cheeky like the Improved Gimlet or The One and Only Gimlet. But if your drink does not have Rose's, your drink is not a Gimlet.

Gimlet (on the rocks)*

2 oz gin
.75 oz Rose's Lime Juice*

Combine ingredients in a glass and stir vigorously with ice. Serve.

*I prefer a Gimlet on the rocks. The Gimlet is not a drink that suffers from dilution.
**The key to enjoying a Gimlet is knowing how much Rose's Lime Juice that you prefer. Recipes vary this amount, but if it's undrinkable for you, then what's the point? Even a dash of Rose's in a glass of gin is closer to the spirit of the Gimlet than fresh lime juice. Find an amount that suits your tastes


  1. For what it's worth, Doug Winship is with you that a Gimlet is only a Gimlet with Rose's. Doug Winship doesn't particularly like Gimlets, but he does use Rose's lime juice in his Kamikazes (along with fresh). Interestingly, just as you could make a Gimlet-like thing w/o Rose's that is only Gimlet-likeish, the same goes for Doug's Kamikaze.

    All that said, Doug has more problems with bartenders reaching for the Rose's when he specifies lime than he does with bartenders trying to avoid using it. Doug recommends keeping the bar snacks close at hand to throw at said bartenders to prevent Rose's from entering a real cocktail....

  2. Agreed, Doug. Assuming one doesn't always go to craft cocktail bars, bartenders that are willing to squeeze a lime are few and far between, though that's changing ever so slowly. (Perhaps it's because they're tired of getting snacks thrown at them.)

  3. It's scary to think that someone would use Roses in lieue of lime juice, but I guess it does happen.

    Great post.

  4. I agree that it's not authentic without Rose's, but I also think it's not any good with Rose's.

  5. Favorite this-is-not-a-Gimlet story. I was in a hotel bar with some friends late one afternoon and ordered a Gimlet. What came was very clear. I was concerned but took a sip to make sure. We asked the waiter to come back, and explained that it was not a Gimlet but a glass of cold gin. He was very English and apologetic and had to ask what else it had in it, an ignorance for which he apologized as well. I explained that there was really only one other ingredient. He agreed that finding some Rose’s was the least he could do to make it a Gimlet. It was reassuring to see it come back with that faint but unmistakable green glow.

  6. I give you credit for suffering "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" on this one. Truth be told I can only recall having a Gimlet once and it was when i took a few sips of my mom's gimlet one night ... this led me to sneak a taste of that glowing green bottle of Rose's hiding in their liquor cabinet which in turn led me to not make such a mistake again.

  7. How about a compromise? Use Fee Brother's Lime juice, which uses both corn syrup and sugar. It sure as heck tastes better than Rose's; all of my customers agree.