The Pimm's Cup

by Naren Young

I am claiming this to be the ‘Summer of Pimm’s.’ I suspect I’ve said this before on more than one occasion, hoping that Americans will start lapping up this sweet elixir like the Poms across the pond do. Well that’s where it was created so it makes sense that they drink the stuff like tap water. Funnily enough, I’ve just been to the Pimm’s website to discover that they’ve just released a Pimm’s ‘Winter’ version with a serving suggestion accompanied by warm apple juice. It sounds delicious but I’m getting off track, especially now that daylight savings has ended and the bloom of spring that we bartenders crave so much is imminent. Bring it!

Pimm’s for me is one of those ‘no-brainer’ elixirs that can and should be enjoyed by anyone. If ever there was a drink that could be called ‘sessionable’, then Pimm’s is it. Period. I can – and have – taken down about 20 Pimm’s Cups in one sitting and don’t feel the effects like the guy who tries the same test with his Vieux Carré or Manhattan cocktails. What’s not to love? It’s light, refreshing, and elegant and when garnished in its typically ostentatious and abundant manner, it smacks of summer like no other beverage on earth.

The most common recipe calls for a good slug of Pimm’s over obscene amounts of ice and topped off with club soda, ginger ale or Sprite (which the English call lemonade). The typical garnish can be a mix of various citrus, perhaps some mint, a few summer berries (strawberries especially are always a welcome addition) and of course what kind of self-respecting bar keep would ever, and I do mean ever, forget a freshly cut and fragrant slice of cucumber? If you put it in a pitcher with one straw and leave me be, then we’ll be friends for a very long time.

Sure, it’s a simple enough drink to be left at that. But as modern, ahem, ‘mixologists,’ we always need to put our own spin on everything, right? Personally, I like mine with a little more kick. A slug of gin never hurts (Hendrick’s anyone?). Neither does a splash of an aromatic liqueur such as St-Germain or anything orange such as Combier, Cointreau, Grand Marnier (if you’re not watching your costs) or Curacao (if you are).

Then you can top it off with the aforementioned mixers, although I am partial to some quality ginger beer, bitter lemon (rarely seen or understood in America although Fever-Tree makes a deadly version) or if I’m feeling flush, some Champagne to make a Pimm’s Royale. But what really makes the Pimm’s Cup for me is garnishes. Plural. You could of course keep to tradition as previously mentioned or you could add your own vibrant spin with the likes of green grapes, apple, kumquats and pomegranate seeds (if you can find them), fresh basil or thyme, lavender buds or if you can get your hands on it, lovage. To be honest, whatever you choose to add to your Pimm’s Cup shouldn’t be anything you need to think about too hard. After all, the drink should epitomize ease and simplicity. Don’t you have a pool, or a tennis court or a polo field to get back to anyway?

James Pimm was certainly onto something when he opened his eponymous oyster house in London in 1823. This shellfish monger wanted something to differentiate his from all others in the capital at the time and so he created a series of Pimm’s variations, all flavored with various fruits and herbs and each with a different spirit base that simply became known as ‘Cups.’ The No. 1 – based on gin – was the first (go figure!) and within a couple of decades he had followed this up with a Scotch and a brandy version. In time there would be six in total, although the gin remains the only one that is still popular today, while most of the others are now merely collector’s items. Angus Winchester – one of my go-to guys for all trivia or booze related advice– tells me they also still make the No. 6 (vodka-based. Again, go figure!).

So there you have it folks. You heard it here first (well, not really). Time to dust off that Pimm’s bottle and when you start mixing, find the right balance between getting creative and keeping it simple. Most of the work has already been done for you.


Read more from Cocktails.