One of the things I most enjoy when doing a Classic for Friday Cocktails is discovering the history behind a well known drink. This is certainly one of those times and in this instance history is wrapped up with a grand tradition…what more could you ask for?
Although Wimbledon started play on Monday, June 24 I knew that I wanted to feature the Pimm’s Cup during the final round of matches. This coming weekend should include some of the most exciting tennis there is…and it seemed that it would be the perfect opportunity to quaff this thoroughly Wimbledon cocktail.
The Pimm’s Cup’s primary ingredient, Pimm’s Gin No. 1, originated at an oyster bar in London’s financial district in the 1800’s. Bartender James Pimm blended the original concoction of gin, quinine (the ingredient in tonic water that gives it a bitter taste) with a variety of herbs to make his Pimm’s No. 1 Cup tonic. Originally served as a digestive for his clients, the original recipe remains a secret held by only a handful of people. I wish I had a hint of what is in there; it’s an aroma that is hard to define through scent or taste and everyone queried guessed at a variety of ingredients and few hit on any that were the same. So the mystery remains but the story continues!
The No 1 cup is as popular today as ever; first introduced as an English summer drink, the first Pimm’s Bar opened at the Wimbledon tennis tournament in 1971 and every year, over 80,000 pints of the combination of Pimm’s and lemonade are sold to spectators. Though most closely associated with Wimbledon, it has a long history of appearing at events for the ‘upper class’ including cricket and polo matches, yacht regattas and an annual opera festival. I wonder if they would have been up in arms to see my motley crew sitting around a picnic table in shorts and t-shirts…and not a one of us with our pinky properly extended!
To understand the huge popularity of the Pimm’s Cup, imagine it is to Wimbledon what the Mint Julep is to the Kentucky Derby. Yes, that big.
The version I’ve made includes a recipe for lemonade by combining simple syrup with lemon juice which is then combined with Pimm’s and sparkling soda. In Britain you would most often see a call for the use of 7-up in lieu of the lemonade and soda. I much prefer our ‘Americanized’ Pimm’s if that’s what I must call it; especially since you can sweeten the cocktail as you prefer by upping the simple syrup ante a bit for those with more of a sweet tooth.
For me? Well, when I made this yesterday for the 4th of July, I actually made several but only used two for photos…when company arrived we brought the other glasses that I had put lemonade into out to the table in the backyard to finish with the other ingredients and enjoy with our dinner. Let’s just say that despite loving the bite of lemon, discovering that I had forgotten to add the simple syrup to my glass at all was a real eye opener. A little bit of sugar is a very good thing.
I found Pimm’s (no one ever actually calls it by it’s full name of Pimm’s No. 1 Cup) easily at a decent sized liquor store and it is consider a liqueur if you have to hunt for it. As for those garnishes; they have little to do with the overall taste but all of my guests agreed that the abundance of fruit and color just added a certain something that spoke loudly of summer. While some might decry their need…it’s just so damn pretty that it’s a need I sure have!
Get ready for this weekend…get some Pimm’s and soda, make some lemonade and start practicing now. Tennis? Heck no…drinking with the uplifted pinky; remember..we’re at Wimbledon!!
- 2 oz fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 to 1 oz simple syrup (equal parts water and sugar boiled just until sugar dissolves; cool)
- 1.5 oz of Pimm's No. 1 Cup
- Club soda, sparkling soda water or plain seltzer water
- Garnishes: Cucumber spear or slices, mint, lemon, orange and strawberries
- Combine lemon juice and simple syrup to make lemonade (start with 4 to 1 ratio and increase to half of each if sweeter is desired)
- Fill a tall glass with ice; add Pimm's and lemonade and top off with soda; stir to mix.
- Garnish with cucumbers, citrus and strawberries.