The Gimlet: How This Gin Cocktail Saved Sailors From Scurvy

Gin is seeing its time in the sun and there’s a true Gin-naissance underway. Gin itself has a long history but even more interesting are the times that it’s diversified into a range of unique cocktails. One of the oldest of the classic Gin cocktails has got to be the Gimlet and even though its popularity isn’t as high as it used to be, it’s still a standard addition to most bar menus around the world. 

It dates back to the 19th century when sailors in the British Navy found themselves fighting an ongoing battle against scurvy - a painful and sometimes deadly disease caused by a severe deficiency of Vitamin C in the body. Citrus fruits are the most effective natural antidote and as that knowledge soon started to spread, sailors were issued a daily quota of limes to help combat the disease. 

The most common story states that the Gimlet came about as a cure proposed by a naval doctor, Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Desmond Gimlette who suggested that Officers on board combined the daily lime quota with their daily gin ration in order to encourage them to actually drink their medicine. Meanwhile, the sailors were offered rum rations instead of gin and their blend was known as Grog, similar to the modern-day daiquiri. 

These were thought to be the first iterations of the cocktail although there is a second theory that abounds about its origin. Gimlet is also the name of a hand-held drilling tool that’s used to bore holes and it was most likely the tool used to open barrels of gin on board ships. This second theory suggests that the cocktail was named after the tool that made it accessible in the first place. Either way, the drink became so popular and it was consumed in such vast quantities that sailors soon became known as ‘limeys’. 

When it rose to popularity, it did so alongside Rose’s Lime Cordial which used to be the most accessible fruit concentrate that could be preserved on board for long periods. It’s actually thought to be the world’s first fruit concentrate and in 1867 a law was issued stating that all British Navy vessels could serve it as part of their daily rations securing the status of the Gimlet forever in history.