What to Drink This Week: The Pimm’s Cup

If you’re anything like me,  you’re likely also frequently trying to find ways to justify your alcoholism by pairing seemingly mundane occasions with appropriate drinks, thereby making the event much more fun; for example mint juleps for the Kentucky Derby,  Old Fashioneds for the season premier of Mad Men, Scotch when you’re ironing, etc.

And now that we’re smack dab in the middle of Wimbledon, you, like me, are probably wondering what’s an appropriate drink to consume at 8am on Friday when Djokovic and Federer face off in the men’s semi-finals, right?

Yes, you were totally wondering that.

Well the answer is as obvious as it is confusing. It’s Pimm’s.

The answer is obvious because, along with champagne, Pimm’s has been the staple drink of attendees of Wimbledon for as long as the British have been taking land from people with darker skin (i.e. forever). It’s also a confusing answer, because, if you’re not British, right about now you’re probably asking yourself, “What the fuck is Pimm’s?”

Well I’ll tell you.

Pimm’s is a “fruit cup;”  a traditional English-style drink designed to be drunk during the summer and meant to be mixed with a soft drink like fizzy lemonade or gingerale. Pimm’s fruit cup was invented by, you guessed it, James Pimm, who owned a chain of oyster bars in England in the 1800s. His fruit cup, like others at the time, was gin-based, and featured a to-this-day secret recipe of herbs. Ooh secret.

It was originally served in a tankard called a Number 1 Cup, thus his beverage became known as “Pimm’s Number 1.”

Apparently, in the years that followed, the brand was purchased from Pimm and various other numbers were introduced (Pimm’s 2-7 in fact, based on scotch, brandy, rum, rye, and vodka, respectively). However, these were all phased out for some reason (I’m guessing people went blind) and pretty much just Pimm’s Number 1 remains.

So what do you do with it?

Appropriately enough, Pimm’s is used to make Pimm’s Cups, a simple and refreshing summer drink that has a few variations. As with any cocktail, there is myriad douche-baggery available out there which claims to get at the heart of what makes a “real” Pimm’s Cup, but the majority of Pimm’s recipes look something like this:

  • 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
  • 7UP, some other lemon-lime soda, or ginger ale
  • lemom or orange slice
  • cucumber
  • lots of ice
  • Collins glass

My lazy research suggests that Brits in the know actually prefer to mix theirs with Schweppes Lemonade, a fizzy lemonade I’ve never seen here in Canada, and other recipes call for actual lemonade with a little something fizzy added. I wanted to try something as close to the “real” mix as possible and was able to find Perrier Lemon, President’s Choice Sicilian Lemon Soda, and something called Splendido Lemon Frizzante.  I opted for the Lemon Frizzante, since it seemed close to what I imagine Schweppes Lemonade to be like–and it sounds fancy.

There is also some flexibility with garnish and a number of recipes will call for mint, lime, or even fresh strawberries in the drink. I went with a slice of cucumber, a slice of orange, and mint since I like mint in drinks because–ah, what it’s to you? I wanted mint in it, OK? Get off my back! God you’re nosy.

So what’s it taste like?

This is a tasty little drink.

It’s sweet, but not in a cloying way. There’s no tartness, and it’s hard to taste any alcohol, actually. There is a bit of an herbal bitterness that balances it too and the mint and cucumber make it really refreshing.

It would be difficult to drink just one of these. Which is OK, since it’s not going to kick your ass. If you’re prone to drinking in quantities the Johnson family has always traditionally referred to as “a shit ton,” this charming little beverage might not do the trick for your more serious drinking needs, but with a mere 25% alcohol (before the addition of a soft drink), a refreshing, slightly sweet, slightly spicy Pimm’s cup might be just the ticket for a long afternoon spent on a patio somewhere. Also, since it’s got some produce in it, it makes for an ideal guilt-free breakfast drink and will serve you well (word play!) as the Wimbledon semis kick off early tomorrow morning.

Bonus: Substitute Champagne for soda and make it a “Pimm’s Royale.” A little something extra special for the finals perhaps?

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