The Hooch Life

The Ever-Faithful, Always Delicious Pimm’s Cup

Photo by Nick Stevens

I love a good Pimm’s Cup. It’s not complicated and dramatic like Scotch. It’s not frivolous, the way a Cosmo entices you into its embrace then leaves you crying in a gutter. And it’s not über-cool and emotionally unavailable like a Gin Martini. The Pimm’s Cup never lets you down.

The classic Pimm’s Cup is a blend of Pimm’s No. 1 (a gin-based liqueur) and sparkling lemonade, garnished with mint, orange and cucumber slices, and strawberries. It has a gentle touch (just 5-6% alcohol, similar to a beer), a sparkling personality, and sweet herbal blast of flavor the keeps you interested and coming back for more.

Too many times, I’ve flirted with a strong, tall Martini or two. It’s all fun and games until that Martini gives my brain the cold shoulder and abandons me to my tipsy fate in the middle of a stiff cocktail reception. There I am, laughing too loud, words sticking to the inside of my mouth like peanut butter, and the Martini is already walking out the door with someone else.

The Pimm’s Cup would never do that to me. It stays with me, faithfully adding its sparkling charm to the evening.

The Pimm’s Cup is a staple during muggy, British summers and at sporting events like Wimbledon. It’s also making a big comeback in the United States. Any bartender worth his or her salt can make you one. I’m not the only one who has rediscovered this hidden gem of a cocktail.

Where Does the Pimm’s Cup Come From?

If you were a commoner back in early 19th-century London, you were quite likely drinking nasty gin. If your gin wasn’t flavored with turpentine, it was sticky sweet to mask the real flavor of the liquor.

Enter James Pimm, a shellfish monger and proprietor of Oyster Bar in London. Londoners couldn’t get enough oysters and gin — it was like burgers and beer today. Instead of serving the gin swill to his customers, Pimm blended it with herbs, spices and fruit to make it taste better. He called this mixture his “house cup” and began serving it in 1823. Thus was born the Pimm’s No. 1 liqueur, and it became so popular that he started selling it to bars around the city. Several more variations followed, made with Scotch, brandy, and rum — the gin-based No. 1 was the only survivor (apart from the elusive, vodka-based Pimm’s No. 6, which is made in limited quantities). Pimm’s No. 1 is the liqueur used to make the delicious Pimm’s Cup cocktail.

Today, Pimm’s No. 1 is made from Gordon’s London Dry gin and a secret blend of herbs and spices. Matt Campbell, senior brand manager for Pimm’s, told the Telegraph that only six people know the recipe. These six people are not allowed to travel together in case they should all fall victim to a fatal accident, taking the Pimm’s secret with them.

Let’s hope that never happens because I’m not sure how I would survive my next cocktail party or summer evening without a Pimm’s Cup.

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