I am for the most part a wine and beer guy, but every now and again I reach for something a bit stiffer. In the cold months, that would be a bourbon, and in the summer, it’s a basil vodka gimlet.
When the gimlet was developed, it called for Rose’s lime juice, a popular cocktail ingredient that was originally sweetened to help preserve it as a source of vitamin C for long ocean voyages. It was often mixed with gin, the spirit of choice for British sailors, as it was thought to have medicinal qualities. Once the danger of scurvy at sea was no longer a concern, Rose’s gained popularity as a way to replace the simple syrup in lime-forward cocktails like rickeys, daiquiris, and of course, gimlets. Nowadays, bartenders lean more towards freshly squeezed lime juice over the bottled variety, but Rose’s still maintains a loyal following among cocktail enthusiasts. We’ll definitely be squeezing our own limes for this one—there’s really no substitute for that vibrant zing.
Flavored and infused gimlets can include fresh fruit that pairs well with lime, like grapefruit or raspberries. You’ll also find versions that feature herbs like rosemary, lavender, mint, or—in the case of this recipe—fresh, peppery basil. While gin is traditional in this classic cocktail, I’m admittedly not much of a gin drinker in general. When I encountered a basil gimlet at a restaurant years ago, I immediately fell in love, and vowed to come up with a vodka version ASAP. You can use either vodka or gin in this formula and tailor it to your preferred strength, but I find that gin’s botanical complexity can be overshadowed by the sharpness and sweetness of the lime juice and simple syrup. Vodka brings more subtlety to the table, and doesn’t compete with the tangy flavor that makes this drink delicious.
This refreshing green concoction is the result of that effort launched so many years ago, and is a perfect sip for hot weather entertaining when basil is in peak season. Try different varieties, like purple, lemon, or Thai sweet basil to add different flavor notes to the finished product.
Test Kitchen Notes
WHO: Oui, Chef is a father of five, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu, and a food blogger.
WHAT: A pitch-perfect blend of basil, fresh lime juice, and vodka that was made for sipping with friends.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Oui, Chef gets all the ratios just right: This gimlet has the perfect touch of sweetness, tang, and zip. Drink it while the weather's still warm, or shake up a batch in the middle of winter for a much-needed drop of bright, citrusy sunshine. —The Editors
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Serves 2
large basil leaves, torn into thin strips
zest of 1/2 lime, finely grated
2 1/2 ounces
small basil sprigs, to garnish
- Add the basil strips, lime zest, lime juice, and simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Crush the basil with a muddler, then let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to allow the liquid to infuse.
- Add the vodka, then fill the shaker 2/3 full with ice. Cover and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.
- Strain the cocktail into 2 chilled martini glasses, top each with a small sprig of basil, and serve immediately.