Enhancing the Flavor of Homemade Syrups: Lime Cordial, Gimlets and Batavia Arrack

Usually in the dead of winter, my cocktail cravings all have one thing in common: sweet vermouth. Whether it's a Martinez, a Palmetto, or even a simple Manhattan, chances are some variation will find its way into my glass. But this year, I have been dreaming of Gimlets. Gin gimlets, of course. If one spirit will make up 75 percent of my cocktail, please make it not vodka. But considering my love for all things brown, bitter and stirred, as well as my seasonal flirtation with sweet vermouth, I can easily admit that I was astounded. But then again, I do love gin. And Gimlets certainly are spirit-forward, strong and lacking in fruit juice--just like all of my other favorites.

The problem with Gimlets is that pesky Rose's Lime Juice, which is the main reason I had never tasted one until recently. When a friend of mine gave me a batch of homemade lime cordial last year, the first thing I made was a Gimlet. It seemed like a no-brainer. Freshly made with real limes, this syrup allowed me to discover just how wonderful a Gimlet really can be. (By the way, I'll have you know that I used every single drop of that lime cordial in Gimlets. And they were delicious.) So this year, when the cold temperatures came, and all of the rich food of December had been consumed, all I could think of was Gimlets. And since citrus is in season, the time was ripe for some lime cordial.

Making a lime cordial is not hard, and many recipes can be found on the Internet. I tend to use a more complicated method, and I'm sure that a similar result could be achieved faster. But then again, I do enjoy a nice weekend project. First of all, when I make citrus syrup, I don't use any water. Because limes, lemons, and oranges all contain this fabulous juice, why dulls its edge with water. Also, I like to use the oils from the peels to add that wonderful, almost floral fragrance. In order to do this, I make an oleo saccharum--a mixture of sugar and in this case, lime zest. Oleo Saccharum, translated roughly as oil-sugar, entered the drinking lexicon sometime in the seventeenth century and has been used to give punches an extra bit of depth. Though David Wondrich advises against using a lime oleo saccharum for a punch--lime oils are too sour--I find it works exceptionally well in a syrup.

Lime Syrup

5 large limes
2 cups sugar
1-2 ounces fortifying agent

Notes on Ingredients: I always use fair trade natural sugar in all of my syrups. Because it hasn't been bleached it still has a bit of the sugar cane flavor. This results in a lime cordial that is not green--it will be brownish green. If you want a solely green lime cordial, use white sugar. I also use organically grown limes. 

Step 1: Zest the limes into a small bowl. I used a microplane zester. The limes were huge so I got quite a bit.

Step 2: Prepare the oleo saccharum by adding 1 cup of sugar to the zest and muddle. Cover with Saran wrap and let it sit for at least 6 hours on the counter. (I intentionally left it out overnight.)

Step 3: Juice the zest-less limes--note you'll want about 1 cup for this recipe. I also strained out the pulp using a tea strainer.

Even though I was actually preparing the syrup the following day, I was afraid that the limes would  become hard overnight without their skins. I used the Vacu Vin wine preservation system to "vacuum seal" the lime juice in a bottle. Hey, it works with wine, why not short-term storage for lime juice. Tupperware might also work. The most important factor is when you are actually making the syrup. The longer you wait, the dryer those limes are going to get. If they are too dry you may not yield a sufficient amount of juice.

Step 4: When you are ready to make the syrup, combine the oleo sacchrum and the juice in a medium sauce pan and heat on low, stirring to help the sugar dissolve. Add remaining sugar until you reach your desired sourness level. I used added 1 additional cup, and the lime cordial still has a nice tartness.

Step 5: Let the syrup cool for a short while and then strain it through a fine tea strainer. If the syrup is still warm, it will be easier because the liquid will be less thick. Optionally, the syrup can then be strained through cheese cloth to collect any smaller particles. Regardless of how finely you strain your syrup, allow it to cool completely before you bottle it.

Step 6 (optional): You do not need to fortify your lime cordial. The syrup will keep as is for about a month in the refrigerator. Fortifying will increase this time. If your syrup is destined for mocktails, Italian sodas, or anyone who shouldn't have alcohol, you are officially done. If you choose to fortify, measure the volume of the syrup to figure out how much fortifying agent to use. A general rule is 1 ounce of fortifying agent to 8 ounces of syrup. This recipe made 16 ounces of syrup.


Usually at this stage, and especially when a recipe yields a substantial volume, I add a fortifying agent to extend the "shelf life." Without it, the syrup may show signs of bacteria in about a month. Though I cannot predict how long a syrup will last once it has been fortified, it is usually much longer. Vodka is what I usually use  chiefly because it won't affect the flavor. After all, if my goal is to have a lime-flavored syrup, why would I want other flavors getting in the way? But if the goal is simply to make something interesting and tasty that is primarily lime-flavored, why wouldn't I want to add a subtle layer of flavor for increased depth?

I have considered this before, but in this case it seemed exceptionally relevant. Though Gimlets are yummy, they can still be pretty one note. The idea seemed to get more interesting the more I thought about what I might want to add. Absinthe? Banks 5 rum? Scotch? When all was said and done, the answer seemed obvious--batavia arrack. Smoky and funky in all the right places, its  flavor was just made for being used subtly. Whether this experiment would be a success was up in the air--considering the small amount, would the flavors even be recognizable? At least on the nose, the arrack makes itself known. When mixed into a cocktail, though, both the aroma and the taste are only laced with the smoky, funky notes. I was quite happy with the results and am now trying to think of other ways to use secondary, spirit-based flavors in my homemade syrups.


2 1/2 ounces gin
1/2  ounce lime cordial

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Notes on Ingredients: I used Beefeater gin and my batavia arrack-laced lime cordial.


  1. That's awesome. I learned so much from this post. I used to just use the juice and sugar, but I love that oleo thing you did. Definitely, going to make it part of my repertoire. Very cool. This would work the same with any citrus?

  2. Thanks for the comment! Yes, creating an oleo saccharum would work for any citrus syrup.

  3. What a cool idea. I've been researching lime cordial for a few months and the best so far it's one that actually clarifies the juice using agar agar. It's hard to tell on my cell phone if the cordial in your pictures is opaque and to what extent. Can u elaborate? Either way I'm trying this first thing tomorrow.