Midway through the eighteen century a prevention for scurvy was discovered, in the form of citrus juice. Scurvy was a persistent problem in those days, with limited access to fresh vegetables and fruit, especially for journeying sailors. Almost a century later the idea of ships carrying lime juice for the crew became law and all British ships were forced to carry rations.
At the same time an owner of a shipyard in Leith discovered how to preserve lime juice without using alcohol. He sweetened the formula to make it palatable and patterned it as Rose’s Lime Cordial, which became the standard for ships to stock. Sailors would imbibe so much to prevent themselves getting ill that they adopted the moniker of ‘limeys’.
The lads below deck may have been mixing the lime with their rum ration but the officers’ choice of tipple was gin, thus the combination of gin and lime came back to shore and into cocktail books.
"The bartender set the drink in front of me. With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look. I tasted it. It was both sweet and sharp at the same time. The woman in black watched me. Then she lifted her own glass towards me. We both drank. Then I knew hers was the same drink." --Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye.
Today’s modern Gimlet is a combination of two recipes found in the 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book, one of which called for 50-50 gin to lime cordial, the same as the officers would have drunk, and the other three parts gin to one part lime cordial, topped off with soda water, called a Gimblet. Together they give us the modern, balanced Gimlet.