I used to think I had quite good sea legs – I could right a capsized Laser by the age of eight and didn’t get sick on the ferry to the Isle of Wight. Then one day my father-in-law decided to take us for a sail across the Channel on his 40-footer. I’ve never been so ill in my life.
These days I tend to get more of my maritime kicks from the safety of a cocktail bar. Because life at sea has produced all sorts of interesting drinks. Sailors almost certainly concocted the first punches, way back in the 1600s. Naval grog – a mix of rum, lime and water, taken as a daily tot – was essentially a primitive Daiquiri. Angostura Bitters were often taken as a cure for seasickness. And then there’s also the Gimlet, a cocktail that was supposedly created by naval officers around the turn of the century, as a way to ward off scurvy.
A Gimlet, done properly, is just equal parts gin and Rose’s Lime Cordial. But I like a dash of fresh lime juice in there as well. Three parts gin, two parts cordial, one part lime juice is about right. Just make sure it’s damn cold.
When it comes to the gin, the obvious choice for this drink would be Plymouth. Distilled at the port-side Black Friars Distillery since 1793, and official gin of the Royal Navy for almost 200 years, Plymouth is a classic that still stands head and shoulders above most of the competition. The standard 41.2 per cent abv version is famously elegant and soft, with bright notes of fresh juniper and sweet orange. If it’s been a really bad day, there is also a Navy Strength, bottled at a fortifying 57 per cent abv.
Plymouth doesn’t usually do novelty. But this July the distiller will launch a special limited edition gin called Mr King’s 1842 Recipe (£45.50 from Plymouthgin.com), which is flavoured exclusively with Umbrian juniper from a single harvest. A vintage version of Plymouth, if you will. The only other botanical in this recipe is orris, or iris root, which is responsible for Plymouth’s signature note of powdery violet. The end result is delicious, bursting with vivid notes of pine, cut grass and flowers that pair beautifully with lime.
The Gimlet is a great recipe to tinker with. St Leonard’s, Jackson Boxer’s restaurant in Shoreditch, does a twist with homemade Kaffir lime and clementine cordial. I can also recommend the Nettle Gimlet at The Zetter Townhouse. Batched & Bottled (Quadrille, £18) by Max and Noel Venning – the duo behind Dalston’s excellent cocktail bar Three Sheets – contains an easy recipe for a Gimlet-style drink flavoured with lemon and cardamom. And Swift in Soho does a Gimlet spiked with lime sherbet. Your voyage of discovery starts here.
Alice Lascelles is Fortnum & Mason Drinks Writer of the Year 2019. @alicelascelles.