Cocktail Culture: The Basil Gimlet

Fighting Scurvy One Drink At A Time

Clarke Conde
2 min read
The Basil Gimlet
Not considered to be medical advice. (Clarke Condé)
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During the Age of Sail, scurvy took the lives of many a sailor. The disease stems from a lack of vitamin C and renders its sufferers weak, with bleeding gums and the inability to heal properly. It is a nasty time with death looming for the sorry sailor far from port who didn’t pack extra OJ. Fortunately, British cocktail ingenuity among officers in the Royal Navy was brought to bear on the problem of the scurvy sailor by adding a lime cordial to the sailor’s daily allotment of gin. It was that same cocktail creativity that later added quinine to tonic water to stave off malaria throughout the British Empire, causing Winston Churchill himself to remark, “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” There is no tonic in the gimlet, but we (and countless, drunken, yet scurvy-free sailors) have Surgeon Admiral Sir Thomas Gimlette KCB to thank for the lesser-known medicinally necessary British cocktail, the Gimlet.

The Gimlet is a warm-weather drink that is traditionally made with gin, and in a pinch, made with vodka. It takes well to a variety of garnishes, but often renders them muted due to the overpowering flavor of the lime. My approach is to complement the lime with homegrown basil. Some muddle the basil and add the mixture in, but I find that inelegant and prefer to simply treat the basil like an umbrella. The lime and gin carry the flavor. The basil merely prevents Victorian cocktail sticklers from colonizing your drink.

3 ½ oz dry gin

1 ½ oz fresh lime

A stalk of basil, trimmed

Lime wedge to garnish


Don’t approach preparation formally, just add the gin and lime to the ice in a glass and plop in the basil. Variations include upping the proportion of lime juice added (depending on how much scurvy you believe you may have). The main thing is to make sure you get enough vitamin C. Scurvy is just one more problem you don’t need.
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