It’s been hard to abide by the cocktailing calendar this year (though we muddled through with a few Mint Juleps in May anyway). But as the weather warms up, it’s only natural that our fancy turns towards seasonally appropriate quaffs. The Tom Collins. The mojito. Highballs of every sort. And let’s not forget Pimm’s No. 1 Cup.
Arguably one of the more uncommon cocktails this side of the pond (although it is popular in New Orleans), this British import is tailor-made for lounging and lawn parties, not to mention letting the good times roll.
Whipped up by London oyster bar proprietor James Pimm back when Victoria was on the throne, the combo of gin, quinine, and herbs was first intended as a digestif. As Pimm’s establishment was wildly popular, his “house cup” as it was known, took off. Once he began selling it commercially, it became a go-to drink across the empire. In 1971, it assumed its place as Wimbledon’s signature tipple.
Researching Pimm’s Cup for a story in The New York Times, spirits specialist Robert Simonson (A Proper Drink, 3-Ingredient Cocktails) discovered that it got its start stateside in the 1940s at the Napoleon House in New Orleans. In 1949, he reported, “Jim Moran, a wily New York marketing man prone to stunts, was enlisted to raise the liqueur’s profile. He hired two actresses to stage a fight at a Manhattan nightclub over the correct garnish for a Pimm’s Cup: cucumber or mint. It made the papers. That dispute continues in earnest today.”
“The English use ginger beer and a slice of cucumber,” notes Colin Cordwell, owner of the book-lined Red Lion Pub in Chicago. “But the English also put corn on pizza. I do ginger ale and a slice of orange. Which I think is much better.”
Over the years, other Pimm’s products have come and gone (No. 2 was based on Scotch, No. 3, on brandy, No. 4, rum), but it’s the gin-centered version with the hint of caramelized orange that deserves a place on your bar today. A fairly obliging spirit, Pimms can be paired with a variety of mixers (lemonade, Sprite, ginger ale, soda, tonic) and garnishes, from strawberries to kumquat.
Spirits expert Michael Jackson once offered a version that included borage leaves and an optional jolt of London Dry or Plymouth gin and a splash of Cointreau, but stick with this classic recipe from the Napoleon House. You won’t be disappointed.
• Fill a tall 12 oz glass with ice
• Add 1 1/4 oz. Pimm’s #1 and 3 oz. lemonade.
• Top off with 7up.
• Garnish with cucumber.