I was at a very good party last night. I was barely in the door before I was being acquainted with a gimlet, which turned out to be the drink of the evening. I had heard of it before (probably first in magazine ads in the 1970s) but to my recollection had never had one. Well, I had two last night. A gimlet is made with gin and lime cordial – the bartenders at this party used Bombay Sapphire (Broker’s probably would have been better, or Tanqueray; Bombay is a little delicate) and Rose’s Lime Cordial, plus a little lime juice, a cucumber garnish, and – heretically – a mint leaf. It was nice to have a classic cocktail that was also a relief from the usual drill. It augured well: the party was not boring.
Which was ironic. After all, a gimlet – the thing the drink is named after – is a small hand drill for boring holes. It’s like an auger, but smaller. Once the bit bites in, it keeps digging with each twist, spiraling the wood out as it goes. So it’s sharp and piercing, like the lime juice in the drink and like a look from a squinty eye – a gimlet eye, as they are sometimes called. A gimlet eye is not like being sloe-eyed (which is good, because there is no sloe gin in a gimlet). It’s an eye that may seem to throw down a gauntlet but more likely is just drilling you.
The g on this word, in case you’re not sure, is pronounced “hard” like the one in give, not “soft” like the one in gibe. It comes to us from Old French guimbelet, which is the source of modern French gibelet, which is not to be confused with Old French gibelet, the source of modern French gibelotte and modern English giblet, which has a “soft” g. (This is what you get for drilling down to the giblets.) The source of that Old French guimbelet is also the source of our modern English wimble, which means ‘gimlet’ and is not to be confused with wimple. There is also an unrelated adjective wimble ‘nimble’. Wimbledon is unrelated and it’s not my problem if you find lawn tennis boring.
So anyway, a gimlet – the drink – is for people who want to recast their gin and tonic with lime. Fair enough, since gimlet anagrams to lime GT. It’s maybe more like a lime Tom Collins, though – just replace the lime with lemon and you’re there. (Who was Tom Collins? It’s disputed but most often pointed at an Irish activist of the 1700s. On the other hand, I can tell you that the martini was originally called Martínez.) Now, if you want a different citrus, no need to go off on a tangerine, I mean a tangent; if you’d rather fill holes than make them, just use orange juice in place of the lime cordial – and vodka in place of the gin – and you have a screwdriver.
And, on the other hand, if you decided that the gimlet-eyed person is really sloe-eyed, you can take comfort in that – and complete the assembly – by adding sloe gin and Southern Comfort to your screwdriver and having a drink called a slow comfortable screw. I’m not making this up.