How To Make A Gimlet Like Raymond Chandler
Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe is arguably Los Angeles' greatest (anti)hero. The hardboiled, hard-drinking private eye is the quintessential detective of American noir, world-weary and wandering streets dark with something more than night.
Like Chandler himself, Marlowe is a heavy drinker. Though the detective orders a bourbon here and there in Chandler's novels (there's a bottle of Four Roses in The High Window and "a slug of Old Forester" in The Little Sister), gimlets are the drink that Marlowe has come to be known for.
Interestingly, despite the drink's strong association with Chandler, the gimlet is only introduced in Chandler's penultimate novel The Long Goodbye, which was released in 1954. Rumor has it that Chandler allegedly revised the book to include mentions of the drink after he and his wife Cissy discovered it while aboard the the RMS Mauretania on a trip home from London, according to Alex Novak's book Tawdry Knickers and Other Unfortunate Ways to be Remembered, which has a chapter on the origins of the word "gimlet." The Long Goodbye is also the best of Chandler's books, and the bleakest. The gimlet gets a total of 21 mentions in its pages.
"In a sense, Marlowe did for the gimlet what James Bond did for the martini," reports no less a source than The World's Best Bartender's Guide.
Gimlets were also Chandler's personal drink of choice, according to California historian Kevin Starr. In Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963, historian Kevin Starr reports that Chandler "held his gin gimlets, drink of the Raj, in a hand covered by a white glove worn to protect his allergy-ravaged skin." The famously alcoholic writer's relationship with his beloved gimlets was tormented, at best. After his wife Cissy's death in 1954, the "last years of Raymond Chandler's life constituted a downward spiral of gin gimlets (for which had Rose's lime juice delivered to his house by the case), a bottle of scotch a day, and wine with meals," Starr writes.
Terry Lennox, the charismatic but tortured character who introduces Marlowe to gimlets in The Long Goodbye, provides the closest relationship of any Marlowe has in the series, and the gimlet appears at the center of their kinship throughout the book. "The gimlet," as Judith Freeman writes in her masterful Chandler biography-cum-valentine The Long Embrace, "takes on an uncommon importance—like a knight's drink of friendship, cementing allegiance..."
“A real gimlet," as Lennox explains in the book, "is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”
That's right, Chandler's gimlet is composed of equal parts Rose's and gin—a combination that might verge on the sickly sweet for the 21st century drinker's palate. According to the Field Guide to Cocktails, vodka has nearly overtaken gin as the choice ingredient for the modern gimlet. The proportion of liquor to Rose's (or fresh lime juice and some form of simple syrup, as you'll more likely find in today's mixology-heavy cocktail culture) has also shifted, with most recipes putting it at between two and three parts liquor to one part lime.