With everything going on lately related to the World Cup, there’s a completely different Cup that gets pretty popular this time of the year. Take your mind away from soccer (or football, if you prefer) for a moment and consider the fact that Wimbledon is just around the corner. Like Kentucky Derby goers with their Mint Juleps, everyone at Wimbledon seems to enjoy one refreshment while they watch men and women chase the fuzzy yellow ball around the grass courts. That drink is the Pimm’s Cup.
Many people on this side of the Atlantic have never even heard of the Pimm’s Cup, let alone Pimm’s No. 1, the key ingredient. Maybe you’ve seen the reddish tea-colored bottle on a bar shelf, or perhaps you even own some but you’ve never known what to do with it. What exactly is Pimm’s No. 1 anyway, and what happened to No. 2 and 3 for that matter?
Pimm’s No. 1 is a gin-based liqueur flavored with spices and herbs. Created in 1823 by James Pimm to be served at his oyster bar in London, the Pimm’s Cup became so popular that he eventually started bottling the main ingredient following a secret recipe. Weighing in at only 50 proof, Pimm’s No. 1 is not a strong spirit, making the Pimm’s Cup the ideal hot summer refresher—and allowing thirsty fans to indulge in more than one. A “cup” is actually a style of drink usually mixed up in a bowl with fruit, similar to sangria only using hard spirits instead of wine. There is a Pimm’s No. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 based on other spirits such as Scotch, brandy, rum and so on, but these less popular versions are seasonal or have been phased out. When people talk about Pimm’s, they mean Pimm’s No. 1.
The basic recipe is a combination of Pimm’s and lemonade, but the problem with that description is that in England, lemonade is what Americans would call lemon soda. We don’t really have a lemon flavored soda in America, but lemon-lime (Sprite, 7-Up) would work. So, we’re really talking about Pimm’s with 7-Up, but a lot of people love it with ginger ale. In either case, lemon is an important flavor characteristic, so squeeze in some extra lemon wedges. The traditional garnish is a cucumber spear and some people argue that a Pimm’s Cup without the cucumber isn’t a Pimm’s Cup at all. Most will also add “fruit in season” which can include orange slices, strawberries and mint. It’s not unheard of to find additional cucumber chopped into chunks or disks or to see apple slices swimming in a properly executed Pimm’s Cup.
2 oz Pimm’s No. 1
Sparkling lemonade, lemon-lime soda or ginger beer
Cucumber and fruit in season
Pour the Pimm’s into a highball or Collins glass. Fill with ice and top with lemon soda or ginger beer. Give a light stir to mix. Garnish with a cucumber spear, mint, or other fruit in season.
I encourage you to dust off that bottle, or buy some for the summer. Try a few variations and see what you like best. I found a wonderful bottle of French gourmet sparkling lemonade at the grocery store which is perfect for this drink, but you could also make a killer cocktail using ginger syrup and club soda. Some cocktail bars serve a variation on this theme with additional gin to strengthen the cocktail. Whatever you decide, don’t skip the garnishes, as they add important flavor components. There’s definitely a version you can enjoy, and you won’t be alone—some 15,000 of these are served court side each day at Wimbledon. They taste good and they are not too strong, so you can concentrate on the tennis, polo or whatever else you happen to be doing.
Anyone for Pimm’s? Tally ho!