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.

Since it’s so damned cold…

… I thought we should talk about ice. This rather serious and bewhiskered gentleman is Frederic Tudor. And I’d like to suggest that he did more for the cocktail industry than almost anyone else in the 19th Century.


Because he pretty much invented the ice trade.

Tudor began his business in 1806, when he was just 23, buying his first brig to ship his first cargo some 1,500 miles from Charlestown to Martinique, and harvesting the ice from ponds on his father’s farm. “No joke,” said the Boston Gazette, when it left town on 10th February. “A vessel has cleared at the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We hope this will not prove a slippery speculation.”

As you’d imagine, most of it melted.

But, despite incurring debts so severe that he spent a year in debtors’ prison in 1812, Tudor was onto something. Not least because he had the foresight to secure exclusive rights to supply ice to a number of Caribbean islands, including Cuba.

By 1825, thanks to his supplier Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, they had figured out how to mass cut ice, improving production, and they’d had nearly 10 years to improve insulation on his ships. By 1833, they were exporting to India. In fact, when the first ship arrived at the Ganges that year, everyone thought it was a joke. But 100 tons of ice survived the journey.

Tudor may not have been the best business man in the world — he lost a bunch of money in the coffee trade — but his insights about the ice business changed the world. Harvested ice was vital for shipping fresh foods west on the burgeoning American railroad system in 1870s. It allowed meats and vegetables to be exported for the first time. And it allowed for cold drinks.

It’s no accident that Tudor’s first successful markets are the party towns of Havana and New Orleans. Nor that India, original home of the gin and tonic, should become one of the biggest importers of arctic ice.

By the time Jerry Thomas opened his first New York saloon in 1851, the ice trade is well established. And without ice, his 1862 book How To Mix Drinks would have been very thin indeed.

Plant produced ice only really begins to supersede harvested ice at the turn of the 20th Century.

So, since you cannot have cocktails without a reliable supply of ice, it stands to reason that Tudor’s ice exporting innovation was a major motor under-pining the bar business.

Alongside the Industrial Revolution, which brought people into cities, created jobs that gave people disposable income and leisure and a desire for novelty for the first time, which in turn led to a different kinds of bars and drinking habits appearing in different ways around the world, ice is critical to modern drinking. You cannot have a cocktail bar without it.

So the next time you order a gin and tonic (India), a daiquiri or a mojito (Havana), a Sazerac (New Orleans), a martini shaken or stirred, hell, even your Campari soda (Turin), tip your glass to Frederic Tudor. Without him and his competitors, the drink in your hand would certainly be different.