820 Fifth Avenue, in the Keating Hotel, Downtown San Diego
(Has gone out of business since this article was published.)
David Oliver, bar manager and resident mixologist at the Merk Bistro, was in a quandary: he loves gimlets, but hates the syrupy lime-juice flavoring most traditional recipes call for. His solution was to reinvent the flavor wheel.
In developing a head-turning take on the traditional vodka gimlet, Oliver didn’t use the usual Rose’s Lime Juice or other pre-bottled confections. He prides himself on making sure that developments at his bar — including his fresh basil look at the gimlet — are organic in nature.
“My bar is all organic and local use,” he tells me. “I don’t use any syrups or sweet-and-sour mixes unless they’re made here fresh.”
That freshness principle includes his version of the traditional sweetened-lime component of a gimlet.
“I use fresh squeezed lime and agave nectar to give it that sugar component and tone down the citrus,” he says.
And that’s also where the basil comes in.
“The basil ties it in with the aromatics of the herb,” he says. “And basil itself is a little bit sweet, so it gives the drink a little bit of an edge-cutter. It also goes well with citrus.”
As unique as these flavors are, Oliver says, the vodka also contributes to the success of his gimlet. Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka, he says, “is one of a kind. It’s a little bit sweeter, as vodkas go. It doesn’t have that real alcohol burn in its finish. It doesn’t taste real hot at the end, and it rounds out the drink perfectly.”
Kitchen Proof: The basil and lime provide an earthy and luminous combination, and the agave improves the sum of the other parts. For those with a less than sweet tooth, holding back a bit (say, half an ounce) on the agave yields equitable results.
The Merk Bistro’s Fresh Basil Gimlet
- In a cocktail shaker, put:
- 3–4 fresh leaves of basil
- 1 oz. fresh lime juice
- 1 oz. agave nectar
- Muddle together and add:
- 1 ½ oz. Zubrowka
- Bison Grass Vodka
- Shake hard over ice, strain into martini glass, garnish with a lime twist and fresh basil leaf.