PRESERVED LIME JUICE CORDIAL AND THE GIMLET

FINISHED LIME CORDIAL

FINISHED LIME CORDIAL

Zested limes ready to be juiced
PRESERVED LIME CORDIAL AND THE GIN GIMLET

I had a conversation/debate around 2005 about how to make a classic Gin Gimlet. We focused on Rose’s Sweetened Preserved Lime Juice/ Cordial vs. Fresh Lime Juice. While this seems like an inane debate, it has some important historical, as well as tasteful, implications.

I was in a bit of a dilemma with my feeling that, historically, lime cordial was more likely the preferred or available ingredient, but fresh was in. Also, Rose’s style cordial was made with high fructose corn syrup, food coloring and other less than palatable ingredients which made that choice even more difficult. My interest was now piqued as to the origins of the gimlet and lime cordial, how a classic Gimlet should or, normally, would be be made, what lime cordial was and its origins and if there even was a definitive answer to any of this.

While I love fresh lime, it just doesn’t make a Gimlet for me. Familiarity is generally what we base our convictions on, and most people are familiar with Rose’s. But it seems to go against our new convictions of using high quality, crafted or fresh ingredients in our food and cocktails. And in the U.S. there aren’t really any quality alternatives to Rose’s brand lime juice.

There are huge differences between fresh lime juice and lime juice cordial. The taste of preserved lime juice cordial is distinctly different than fresh lime juice and has a similar taste to that of lime curd or lime marmalade (Rose’s has made lime marmalade since 1865).

But how to get that lime curd flavor we want (or many of us want), without the high fructose corn syrup and the brown colored juice?   The only alternative was to try to make it myself.

LIME CORDIAL AND GIMLET BACKGROUND

There is ample historical evidence for the case that Rose’s style cordial was the ingredient of choice in Gimlets around the world, but there isn’t really a definitive answer or “smoking gun” for the invention of the Gimlet or the first ingredients and ratios.

The origins of the Gimlet lie, rather, in the general time line of history from the use of lime juice in the Royal Navy as a preventative and cure for scurvy, the attempts to preserve lime juice for future use, the attempts to make it both palatable to the sailors (who were required to drink it) and to the general public and their growing tastes for non-alcoholic beverages and mixers in England in the later 19th century, and, finally, that gin was the spirit of choice among the officer class whether on land or aboard ship.

Citrus cordials and sodas ( lemon squash, bitter lemon soda, tonic water, etc..) became quite popular and were natural mixers with spirits during the 19th century.

Plymouth Navy Strength (114 proof) gin was the gin of the Royal Navy from the early 19th century onward, (Black Friars Distillery, Plymouth, 1793). It was produced at that strength for the Navy, not in small part, because if it was spilled on gun powder during battle, the powder would still flame, and the cannon could still be fired..(A real example of Dutch Courage at work!)… Gin would also be the choice at officers clubs and bases around the world.

But it really isn’t cut and dried that a Gimlet would never be ordered with fresh lime. Gin yes, but what kind of lime? There is ample evidence to show that it was made with fresh lime as well as lime cordial, but that lime cordial was something that was always around and could be counted on when fresh limes weren’t available.

For example, at an officers club in Bombay or Hong Kong the bartender might use gin, fresh lime and sugar, or preserved lime cordial, depending on availability, but both might be called a Gimlet. This would be a common occurrence in Royal Navy, Army, and government outposts around the world. In lieu of fresh mixers, a bottle of lime cordial could always be counted on and would be a common denominator in bars around the British Empire.

 Royal Navy Lime Juice Bottle early 19th Century (British Military Bottles)
THE LIMEYS

Up until the late 18th century there was no real scientific data on anti-scorubics (anti scurvy). The scientific method of studies were not really used until we reach the early 19th century, so the use of citrus (lemons or limes) was sometimes used on just anecdotal evidence. Use of citrus, or other remedies, depended on the captain of the ship. There was no mandate or general consensus that citrus would ward off scurvy, and getting sailors to drink the usually noxious oxidized lime juice was also a difficult task.

But in 1747, British Dr. James Lind experimented with lemon juice on some of his men suffering from scurvy that pointed strongly to the use of citrus as a “medicine”. It still took until 1795 for the British Navy to mandate the use of lemon juice on board naval ships and not until 1867 with the general Merchant Shipping Act was the use of citrus on all British commercial shipping mandated.

Lime or lemon juice was rarely, if ever, fresh aboard ship. Lime juice was preserved in several ways, most common being the addition of spirits and sugar as a preservative and to make it somewhat more palatable. It was usually stored in large bottles, not wooden casks.

Other methods were making a lime concentrate or syrup, called a rob, by cooking the juice at low heat in a double boiler and evaporating the excess water until it was oily at room temperature and thick when chilled. Lemons or limes were used.

By the 1840’s, though, limes essentially replaced lemons (there was not much of a distinction back then) because of the influence of British lime growers in the Caribbean and the sporadic sources of lemons from the Mediterranean due to war or instability. Unknown, though, was that lemons were a far more effective anti-scorubic than limes.

PRESERVED LIME JUICE CORDIAL

This brings us up to commercially produced preserved lime juice cordial and Lachlan Rose and the likely origins of the modern dry gin gimlet. Rose worked on a method of preserving lime juice, without the use of spirits, for use in the military and merchant marine with an eye on the home market in England its the growing in taste for lemon and lime soft drinks, sodas, and mixers.  It was also a product that could be used by the Royal Army or other government and commercial posts around the British Empire.

One of Rose’s ideas was making his lime juice actually palatable and tasty, as well as preserved. For example, he discovered that juice, more often than not, was made from limes that had fallen onto the ground and begun to decompose, rather than ripe, freshly picked limes. (Birmingham Daily Post, 1870)

It was almost always the case that “regular” lime juice was musty and foul to begin with. Rose was one of the first to ensure that the limes his company juiced would be picked from the trees. Something we think would be obvious today, but had to be directed at that time.

The method of preservation that he patented used a version of sulfites. He patented the use of sulfurous gas and acid to treat the lime juice. Rose’s still contains metabisulfate and sulfites are used today as a preservative in much of the worlds wine.

Rose also looked to the large potential commercial market for selling his lime juice on an even larger scale and was very successful marketing his flagship product, using distinctive bottling to capture the consumers eye and business. Slews of competitors popped up, copying even Rose’s distinctive bottle shape and style.

Rose’s Lime bottle found in Boer War dump (Antique Bottles)
THE GIMLET

The popularity of this style of lime cordial around the British Empire was certain. But can we say that this the classic ingredient in a gin gimlet?

I think we can surely say it was, but we have to be careful to not be dogmatic about things such as cocktail recipes, or we take the fun and truth out of them. Exceptions always exist and people mold recipes to their own tastes over time.

The first recorded recipe for the gimlet, according to Dave Wondrich, was in Harry MacElhone’s  Harry’s ABC of Mixing Cocktails from the early 1920’s. Gary Regan throws his hat in the ring voting for Rose’s as “the ingredient that defines the drink..” The Savoy Cocktail Book lists Rose’s in it’s Gimlet, but not in its Gimblet.  However, Embury writes in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks that a Gimlet has fresh lime juice and often it was made in the US with fresh lime. Rose’s began exporting to the US in 1901

There are also many other issues at hand when discussing cocktail history. Ratios, ice, technique, tools, glassware, and other issues can make two completely different cocktails with the same ingredients. Again these are things that almost always make definitive answers to what a cocktail is or was nearly impossible and is why I generally leave that dogma at the door and make room for legitimate variations on the same theme.

In the end, drinks should be made to your own personal tastes. In the case of the Gimlet, I prefer much more gin to lime. I enjoy the taste of good gin, and want the gin to stand out and the lime to simply enhance it.

The gin is like the nucleus of an atom and the cordial like it’s electron…..

Now my rationale and recipe for Preserved Lime Cordial.

Lime zest, limes, zested limes

I experimented, but wanted to stay as simple as I could. I wanted it to be real and impart the lime curd flavor I was looking for and be as natural as possible. I studied a few old 19th century recipes for cordials and syrups in England. I looked at making a “rob” (the cooked citrus juice used on board some Royal Navy ships).

I settled on the simple combination of fresh, strained lime juice and white cane sugar and lime zest to add the lime taste and aromas. I also tried different methods of heating this syrup and infusing the lime oils.

Heating the cordial helps in its preserving, concentrating, and water evaporation. Heating it too high will caramelize it and bring flavors that mar the lime taste.

Zested Limes
Lime Zest steeping
This lime cordial is not meant to replace fresh lime in any cocktail that requires it, i.e.  Margarita or Daiquiri (but it works great with tequila and rum in the style of a Gimlet)..I consider a cocktail made with gin, fresh lime and rich simple syrup more like gin daiquiri than a gin gimlet. Delicious, I love them, but not a Gimlet
APPEL’S LIME CORDIAL
 
1 Part Fresh Strained Lime Juice
1 Parts White Cane Sugar
Zest from Limes
I have updated the following recipe a few times over the years to reflect growing experience and countless trials making this cordial.
THE PROCESS
Wash, dry and zest limes. Store zest in airtight container in refrigerator.

Bring juice and dissolved sugar slowly to 180 degrees. Stir this often.

Use a candy thermometer to gauge your temperatures.

Allow it to rest and come to room temperature, add the zest. Keep covered. Allow to steep for several hours or up to one day and then strain.

Store in non-reactive containers (glass bottles are best)

This will last for months and even a year or longer stored in your fridge and never discolors like Rose’s does. I have never had it go bad. If you like it more tart, add less sugar or vice versa.

DRY GIN GIMLET
2 oz Plymouth Navy Strength Gin
.5 oz Homemade Lime Cordial
All ingredients to shaker filled with ice.
Hard shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass
Lime Wheel garnish
Garnish is not necessary. I also enjoy this cocktail stirred.
I also more often drink this cocktail on the rocks stirred or shaken.
Stirred in the winter and shaken in the summer is a good rule of thumb.

11 thoughts on “PRESERVED LIME JUICE CORDIAL AND THE GIMLET

  1. Hey DA!

    Sorry I have been away from here for too long…been so busy..

    Check out the recipe for Lemon Cordial here on my blog in an earlier post. It is pretty much the same recipe as the lime, except with lemons. It is a bit easier as lemons are easier to zest/peel

  2. Greetings from Minneapolis! I came to you blog via the Ardent Spirits email– your Solleone Cocktail looked wonderful, and I was really intrigued by your “Grapefruit cordial,” only to look you up and see your recipe for LIME cordial!

    I'm a big fan of Rose's, and like you, have observed (& occasionally weighed in on) the fresh vs. Rose's debate. While I adore fresh lime, and fresh lime with gin (i.e. Gin Rickey), a Gimlet needs the lime cordial, and what makes it a cordial (I think) is the COOKING of the lime juice.

    I've just made a batch, with our proportions. It tasted so incredible alone that I had to make a (little) Gimlet to try it out, late though it is… and I regret to report that I found it too sweet.

    Here I'll mention that I like my Gimlet in a 2:1 proportion, and I'm talking gin and Rose's. I've gven up ordering them in bars, as the “Martini = gin and no detectable vermouth” philosophy seems to have seeped into Gimlets– I've been served a glass of cold gin as a gimlet, much like the glass of cold gin Martini!

    Anyhow, the original recipe being pretty much 1:1, I find 1:.5 a dramatic difference; and I see you favor 1:.25, which I can also enjoy happily. However, it's the specific cooked-lime tangy-bitter quality of Rose's that I love… and now that I've tried yours and Rose's side by side in mini-Gimlets, I find I still prefer the Rose's. It's more acidic, and more bitter.

    I'll try adding more lime juice tomorrow, and cooking it down a bit. I think the cooking is key to the Rose's quality, and of course am well aware that the “cooked” thing is what freaks out lots of young 'uns of today about Rose's!

    A side note: I've been pretty successful in eliminating high frutosecorn syrup from my diet for the past several years… with the exception of Rose's, and maraschino cherries, two items I can't live without (so far). AS I was really into Gimlets when I stated that anti-HFCS thing, I did some research, and found that the UK formula is quite different from ours in the US– theirs uses CANE SUGAR!!! I tracked down a US importer, and ordered a bottle.

    Can you imagine my excitement when it arrived? Different bottle. Different COLOR (greener). Different AROMA (fresher). All seemed great… until I made a Gimlet… and, as tonight, I was disappointed. It just misses the oomph of the traditional, very cooked flavor of Rose's. I was dumbfounded!

    That bottle ended up vanishing quickly, as my husband made himself lots of tasty, fresh-flavored limeades. Perfectly nice for cocktail use, of course… just not for a traditional Gimlet, in my super-traditional opinion.

    One last thing:

    In your cordial experiments, did you ever reduce the lime juice dramatically before adding sugar? I'm thinking that might be the trick to achieve what *I'm* looking for– a very tart, slightly bitter, lime cordial, without too much FRESHNESS!

  3. Greetings from Minneapolis! I came to you blog via the Ardent Spirits email– your Solleone Cocktail looked wonderful, and I was really intrigued by your “Grapefruit cordial,” only to look you up and see your recipe for LIME cordial!

    I'm a big fan of Rose's, and like you, have observed (& occasionally weighed in on) the fresh vs. Rose's debate. While I adore fresh lime, and fresh lime with gin (i.e. Gin Rickey), a Gimlet needs the lime cordial, and what makes it a cordial (I think) is the COOKING of the lime juice.

    I've just made a batch, with our proportions. It tasted so incredible alone that I had to make a (little) Gimlet to try it out, late though it is… and I regret to report that I found it too sweet.

    Here I'll mention that I like my Gimlet in a 2:1 proportion, and I'm talking gin and Rose's. I've gven up ordering them in bars, as the “Martini = gin and no detectable vermouth” philosophy seems to have seeped into Gimlets– I've been served a glass of cold gin as a gimlet, much like the glass of cold gin Martini!

    Anyhow, the original recipe being pretty much 1:1, I find 1:.5 a dramatic difference; and I see you favor 1:.25, which I can also enjoy happily. However, it's the specific cooked-lime tangy-bitter quality of Rose's that I love… and now that I've tried yours and Rose's side by side in mini-Gimlets, I find I still prefer the Rose's. It's more acidic, and more bitter.

    I'll try adding more lime juice tomorrow, and cooking it down a bit. I think the cooking is key to the Rose's quality, and of course am well aware that the “cooked” thing is what freaks out lots of young 'uns of today about Rose's!

    A side note: I've been pretty successful in eliminating high frutosecorn syrup from my diet for the past several years… with the exception of Rose's, and maraschino cherries, two items I can't live without (so far). AS I was really into Gimlets when I stated that anti-HFCS thing, I did some research, and found that the UK formula is quite different from ours in the US– theirs uses CANE SUGAR!!! I tracked down a US importer, and ordered a bottle.

    Can you imagine my excitement when it arrived? Different bottle. Different COLOR (greener). Different AROMA (fresher). All seemed great… until I made a Gimlet… and, as tonight, I was disappointed. It just misses the oomph of the traditional, very cooked flavor of Rose's. I was dumbfounded!

    That bottle ended up vanishing quickly, as my husband made himself lots of tasty, fresh-flavored limeades. Perfectly nice for cocktail use, of course… just not for a traditional Gimlet, in my super-traditional opinion.

    One last thing:

    In your cordial experiments, did you ever reduce the lime juice dramatically before adding sugar? I'm thinking that might be the trick to achieve what *I'm* looking for– a very tart, slightly bitter, lime cordial, without too much FRESHNESS!

  4. Greetings from a Gimlet lover and Rose's defender! At least, a defender of the concept of lime cordial in a Gimlet, as opposed to fresh lime juice, for all the reasons you've listed, and more, i.e. that special “cooked” flavor (like marmalade) of the cordial. I do LOVE fresh lime in just about everything, but fresh lime and gin says “Gin Rickey” to me, no Gimlet.

    Anyway, I made a batch according to your proportions and instructions– in my home kitchen, that meant about 9oz lime juice to 8oz cane sugar, plus all the zest. It smelled and tasted wonderful… but for my tastes, wasn't nearly tart enough when put to work in the Gimlet. I made up a Rose's version to compare… and I have to admit that I still love it (I think a gimlet may have been my first legal drink… but it was over 30 years before I had one again!), so it's got nostalgia going for it, but I just like that cooked quality.

    Tonight, I squeezed 3 big limes, so got just under 8 oz of juice, and boiled the hell out of it, reducing it by half, and it was plenty tart. I tossed today's zest into it while it was just off the boil, so that got a touch of cookery (i.e. non-freshery!), too. Mixed it in with Sunday's cordial… and then added a drop of blue coloring. YES I DID!!! Slightly too big a drop, but the color is now a pastel vsn of the dark green limes I was using, so not horrible, and when I mixed up a mini Gimlet (1oz gin:.5 oz cordial) it actually looked wonderful.

    Alas… still too sweet / not acidic enough. I'm going to get another load of limes tomorrow, and boil down about 8oz of juice to 4oz or less, and add that.

    I really appreciate your interest in cordials (I came to your blog via the Ardent Spirits email, which described your wonderful Campari cocktail with grapefruit cordial– I'll tackle that next). I hope this is the beginning of a trend, like bitters five years ago!

  5. Hey Maria!!

    I went to High School in Mpls and to the U of M!..cool

    I love your post…as far as ratios, I am all for ones personal taste which evolves as we do. For simple syrup, though, it is different situation. Since it is just a debate on how much water you want in your sugar…In that case I think the syrup should be as close to pure sugar as possible, at least 2-1 ratio.

    I grew up with those red cherries and was born in Wisconsin. Brandy manhattans are a staple and I know they are yucky , but I love them.

    I make a bitter lemon cordial, as well as plain lemon, lime, and grapefruit…i also do ginger and lime, ginger syrup, hibiscus syrup, grnadine…and just made Door County Sour Cherries for cocktails, cherry syrup, and cherry bounce and am making cherry butter…whew!…I wil post the cherry ordeal soon!

    great to hear from you!

  6. Adriana says:

    The Original Appel’s Lime Cordial is much more concentrated than this one due to the 20 minute simmer. Many recipes on this site call for Lime Cordial, do the quantities reflect the old, or the new?

    • Hey Adriana….I want it to be concentrated…My goal in slow cooking is to also reduce the water content from the juice…this helps in preservation and concentrates flavors that will be added to drinks without diluting them. I have found that the longer time at lower temp concentrates the cordial as much as when it was more rushed at a higher temp. Any real differences either way are minimal and not enough to really notice in real life situations. For a Gimlet cocktail I use 2 oz LONDON DRY GIN and 1/2 oz of APPEL’S LIME CORDIAL….This drink is one I like stirred or shaken..

      • Adriana says:

        Now I’m. Confused, do you preferred the original, low and slow cordial or the revised less concentrated one above after discussion with Toby Cecchini?

  7. Adriana….My apologies…After reading this I realized I need to update this recipe once again….I will give you the gist of what I do now and why….I do all the same prep…But I bring the lime syrup to 175 degrees very slowly…I do not bring it to a boil like the old “Rob” style recipe…this was for aesthetic as well as taste value that I found was an improvement. I cool the lime syrup to room temp then add the lime zest…I will leave it in for 6-12 hours and then strain it out…Bring the syrup to a boil had the effect of turning the syrup brownish and also imparting a caramel like taste that I wanted to get rid of…The color is a great opaque greenish color….aroma and taste are both fantastic….let me know if and how I can help if you have any other questions…my email is gatofelixx@gmail.com…later!

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