The basil gimlet

The basil gimlet. Photos by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

I am normally straight at you like a knife, cocktailwise. A martini is gin with vermouth you can taste, and a twist. Period. Either there is no other martini or the name doesn’t mean anything. (I refuse to back down on this one, sorry. I like vodka, I own vodka, I drink vodka, but vodka and vermouth is a stupid drink with an appropriately stupid name.) I want plenty of bitters in my Manhattan. After the martini, there’s no better drink than an old-fashioned.

So you’d think I’d pooh-pooh infusing decent spirits with shit from my herb garden. And I did. Until a new pal made Donna a gimlet with basil-infused gin. And he made a delicious summer cocktail with cantaloupe and basil-infused tequila. Basil is in full growth now, and it takes only a day or two to infuse a spirit with it, so I gave it a whirl, and found I love the summer mood it gives to a drink, the floral savory notes that tell you it’s the middle of August, and that it’s OK to relax a little.

The gimlet is also something of a neglected drink, in large part because for years it has relied on that cloying, lime-flavored sugar-water called Rose’s Lime Juice. Here I’m taking it back to its Imperial roots and simply making it with gin, lime juice, and simple syrup, in effect a gin sour. Truly refreshing on a summer evening.

Basil infused gin @540

To infuse any alcohol with any herb, put plenty of herbs in a jar, fill it with the spirit of your choice, and let it infuse for 24 to 48 hours, giving the jar a shake every now and then, or until the spirit tastes as you wish. Strain through cloth.

If you don’t have basil on hand or are drinking along with the Friday cocktail hour, a good gin (Tanqueray is excellent for a gimlet), sans basil, will suffice. If you want to use vodka, go ahead—it works perfectly well here (but there should be a name for it, no?). I prefer the lip-puckering proportions below. Donna thinks it’s too sweet and sour. So feel free to reduce both lime and simple syrup by half or to taste.

Happy summer Friday, all!

Basil Gimlet @540

Basil Gimlet

  • 2 ounces basil-infused gin (or gin of your choice)
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 disc of lime (for garnish)
  1. Combine the fluids in a shaker and fill it with ice. Stir or swirl gently for 60 to 90 seconds and strain into a chilled martini glass.
  2. Do absolutely nothing other than enjoy your drink and the summer air.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



19 Wonderful responses to “Friday Cocktail Hour: Basil Gimlet”

  • Allen

    190 proof Everclear is the best for making an extract, but way to hot.
    Kafir lime leaves are interesting.

    But for gin, I will give basil a try.

    I’m still going to go f#*king ape shit if there’s no olive in my martini. A good firm olive.
    One in the glass is sexy, but three on a bamboo skewer is best.
    I’ve warmed up to a little lemon twist, but don’t f#*k with the olives. Twist belong in vodka, gin loves olives. Sweethearts, made for each other. Good olives.

  • Darcie

    May the gods bless you for being a martini purist. I’m with you 100%.

    Since I am bad at planning ahead, I just muddle basil with spirits when I make cocktails. I will have to try infusing to see how it compares. My guess is that muddling is a cudgel compared to the finesse of an infusion. Only one way to find out….oh darn, that means I’ll have to drink two.

  • ...pat.

    Oh, I’m going to have to play with my basil and invite friends over. Sounds delicious, Michael. And as always, I love Donna’s photography. Did she use a flash/strobe for the pour?

  • Mantonat

    My dad always took his martini with a pearl onion (a Gibson?), so that’s my favorite. I usually don’t order it at a bar though because those jars of onions have probably been sitting around since Carter was president. Otherwise, I totally agree with you about gin over vodka and the proper use of vermouth.

    I don’t have much basil this year, but I have an enormous purple shiso plant, which I have been using to make mojitos – shiso instead of mint. If a mojito is May, a shiso mojito is August.

  • pink alt

    What are your thoughts on using dried basil instead of fresh in the infusion? It seems like a really bad idea in my mind. I just do not have the self confidence to quit the idea on my own.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      sounds like a bad idea to me too! but you could try a small amount.

  • cleek

    if you’re growing any sage, i recommend the High Sage (gin, sage simple syrup, champagne). light and fresh.

  • Michael McDaniel

    You really don’t think gin, vermouth and an olive is the true martini? I think adding a lemon twist is a variation on the theme.

    • Allen

      Olive is a must.

      Try the Egyptian cured olives from the NY times article in the original Ruhlman olive post. Lye cured are great and a good blue cheese stuffed.
      I like all three on a nice long bamboo skewer ( available at World Market cocktail section), all three together, side by side make a great contrast.
      Olive snobbery is OK, but I even have the smallest, cheapest little baby olive in a pinch, say – when I’m camping, or on vacation. Something I’ve smuggled out of a buffet line salad bar.
      Roughing it.
      Even just one little cheep baby olive.
      But it has too be there.


  • Charlotte

    I too am a gin purist, but I must admit to having become obsessed the past few summers with herbed vodka infusions. As soon as my herbs come in, I find myself stuffing old booze bottles with sage, summer savory, basil, green coriander seeds, a little mint — then adding lemon peel, coriander pods and pink peppercorns. Give that a couple of weeks and you have a lovely, herby, tipple to drop in cheapo white wine, or to make a lovely summer cocktail with simple syrup, lime juice and lots of sparkling water.

  • Allen

    Can’t find enough words to describe my fondness for the HBO film Clear History, and… Olives.

    Now, a bit off the subject, but a quick comment on farmers markets and fava beans:
    The only thing I knew about them, was a line from Silence Of The Lambs, read by Anthony Hopkins; ” I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti”.
    I heard a recent NPR interview with Mr. Hopkins, that he didn’t even know what the hell a fava bean was.
    What a great line, and read with such great conviction. Coodos to the writer.
    Caaaa hoooo does! Kooo does. Coo dey lah.
    I prepared the fava beans as the vendor suggested, a lot of work, great with a Chianti, and perhaps a chicken liver mouse, or a smoked t bone that we shared, great combo. Like olives and gin, or vodka and a twist. Made for each other.
    So when I turned 50 I started shaking the cocktail shaker vigorously 50 times, so I get the little ice chunks, great in the summer months. Stirred is better in the winter.
    My trademark is to shout “50!” when done shaking, everyone knows there drink is ready, if they preferred stirred, I will stir. Nobody really cares, nobody gives a rats ass, I do.
    Sometimes I like the ice, sometimes not.
    Most importantly, cheers! Happy Friday all!
    Try those funky beans. Well worth the effort.

  • Paul

    You can make a comparable drink without waiting for the infusion. Just make a basil-gin smash, to wit:

    Muddle 5 or so basil leaves with the simple syrup in your shaker tin (do not pulverize them, just press them to release their oils). Add ice, lime (or lemon) juice, and gin. Shake and strain into a chilled glass (I double-strain to keep out the plant bits). Garnish by floating a basil leaf on top.

  • aq


    – add whole basil leaves before shaking — no muddling, no infusing
    – shaking very hard (and a few extra times) with ice (this will effectively muddle the leaves)

    the color and flavor will be improved, and the hard shaking will introduce more dilution which is good. dilution is important. too much will make the cocktail dull, but the right amount helps meld the flavors.

  • Ben

    I started infusing on Saturday and finally made the drink today (3 day infusion). It was really refreshing with the infusion adding a lot of aromatics that I strongly doubt could be replicated by mudding. As Alton Brown says, “Your patience will be rewarded.” Thanks for posting!

  • Allen

    I did a 7 day double infusion, basil comes through at the end on the gin. I’m with Donna on too sweet.
    Perhaps key limes would be better, I tweaked the ratio. More gin, not that I need anymore…whewww!

  • Jim

    I’m partial to Jeffrey Morganthaler’s delightful Richmond Gimlet, which uses sprigs of fresh mint, lime juice, simple syrup, and Tanqueray No. 10 (which isn’t as assertive as original Tanqueray). No infusion; just add ice and shake all the ingredients in a Boston shaker. The mint gets shredded in the process. Strain and enjoy.


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