By Ron Fisher
Wimbledon begins in a week or so, and the crowds on hand will be drinking plenty of Pimm’s Cups. What the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby, Pimm’s Cup is to Wimbledon, as well as the Henley Regatta, polo matches, and summer garden parties across the UK. Somehow, Pimm’s has never gained the same recognition in the U.S., which is a shame, because it’s a tasty and refreshing summer drink that’s easy to make.
Pimm’s holds its own among classic drinks. James Pimm owned an oyster bar in the City of London, near the Bank of England, in the 1820s. Pimm realized that customers stayed longer if they sipped, rather than slugged, their gin, so he created a gin-based tonic with secret herbs and liqueurs, and served it in a tankard known as a #1 Cup. Pimm was on to something, and his business grew throughout the mid-1800s. By the time he sold out in the 1850s, he had five restaurants, but it was the liquor that the acquirers were after. As time passed, there were six varieties of Pimm’s, each with a different spirit as its base (#2, scotch; #3, brandy; #4, rum; #5, rye whiskey; and, #6, vodka). Today, only #1 is regularly available, with Pimm’s Winter Cup (formerly #3), sold seasonally. All the others have been phased out.
One doesn’t drink Pimm’s by itself, and there is much discussion about what mixer to use in a Pimm’s Cup. The British recipes call for lemonade, but their lemonade is not the same as the summertime thirst quencher that we think of in the U.S. The closest comparable we have to British lemonade is 7-Up or Sprite, yet these are probably sweeter and less tart than what they have in England. The <ROTR> test kitchen tried several additives, and we found that ginger ale works best. Even so, the drink still needed a kick, and a small amount of lemon or lime juice gets the job done. We also found that while most recipes call for one part Pimm’s to two parts mixer, a 1:1 mix was better.
Pimm’s is 25% alcohol from the bottle, and equal parts of spirit and ginger ale makes the drink half of that. Thus, Pimm’s is great for those who want something with the strength of a glass of wine, and not too potent for those who want to have more than one. And, what makes Pimm’s especially delicious is the fruit that one throws in. While there are lots of variations, cucumber seems to be a must, as are a few sprigs of mint sticking out of the top. After that, it depends upon what you have on hand (anything goes: apple, orange, pineapple, pear, strawberries).
Typically, you will be making Pimm’s Cups in anticipation of serving them at a summer party. Here’s the procedure: a day before your event, pour a bottle of Pimm’s into a pitcher and add the fruit, cut into pieces that will fit a tall glass. In each pitcher, make sure that you include a quartered lemon or lime. There is a wonderful symbiosis that occurs between fruit and booze when they co-exist – the fruit absorbs the liquor and the liquor takes on the flavor of the fruit. Letting it all sit together in the fridge for a day gets the job done quite well.
When it comes time to serve, pour the liquid into a glass, including some of the fruit and maybe some ice, then pour the ginger ale in similar proportion to the Pimm’s and add the mint.
<<Pimm’s #1 Cup>> (by the glass)
2 oz. Pimm’s #1
2 oz. ginger ale
One lemon or lime wedge, squeezed and thrown in
A meaningful slice of cucumber, cut lengthwise
Several sprigs of mint
Other fruits (strawberry, apple, orange) selon arrivage