In Defence Of Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial

This last weekend, a good friend of mine went to lunch.

This is perhaps the least exciting opening sentence I have ever written. But wait: there is conflict to come.

Asked what she’d like to drink, she said: “I’d like a soda and lime please. With lime cordial.”

“We use fresh lime,” said the waiter.

“That’s a totally different drink,” said my friend.

“Yes, but we use fresh lime. Would you like fresh lime?” Which amounts to a refusal to serve what was asked for, for one thing. And a dismissal of lime cordial. Which shows a disregarding ignorance for all matters Bar.

Fresh lime has its place. And it’s an important place. There is no Margarita without fresh lime. But lime cordial, and by “lime cordial” we mean Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial, has an important place too, and no bar should be without it.

For one thing, if you don’t have it and someone orders a Gimlet, you’re fucked. A Gimlet doesn’t just require a slug of Rose’s, the recipe demands it. By name.

Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial was first produced by Lauchlan Rose in 1867. It was the world’s first fruit concentrate, and within a year of its launch it became a key part of the Royal Navy’s Vitamin C delivery system. Though lime juice consumption had been advocated since the middle of the 18th Century, its preservation was not always reliable. So…

… Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial is why yanks call us limeys.

And adding to the Gimlet’s naval heritage, it is said to be named after Rear-Admiral Desmond Gimlette, who was a key advocate of the lime ration, and of the mixing of lime with gin.

As to the drink itself, Harry Craddock’s recipe in The Savoy Cocktail Book lists the Gimlet’s ingredients as 1 part Plymouth Gin to 1 part Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial. “And nothing else,” Raymond Chandler adds in The Long Goodbye. Which makes it one of the very few cocktails made without ice. Which is hardly surprising given ice’s scarcity on the high seas.

These days, Gimlet’s are often stirred over the cold stuff or served on the rocks, and the ratio of lime cordial in the drink tends to be much lower, as low as one part in five in some versions. But even at this lower quantity, its sweet-tang flavour has a role to play in the overall cocktail.

To dismiss lime cordial in favour of fresh lime juice is not just snobbery. It is stupidity. But beware: some Rose’s Lime Juice Cordials are more Rose’s Lime Juice Cordial than others. Rose’s was acquired by Schweppes in the late ’50s, which in turn merged with Cadbury’s, with the beverage holdings being off-loaded in 2008. This has resulted in different versions of the cordial in different territories. The UK and Canadian versions remain close to the original recipe, using real sugar as a sweetener and no artificial preservatives. The US version uses high fructose corn syrup and sodium metabisulfite, while the New Zealand version bins out the corn syrup for sugar but keeps the preservatives.

As with so many things, the original recipe is the best.

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