The Classicist: An Ode to Pimm's
In the summer, civilized people should not quaff wine coolers, light beers or novelty liqueurs; they should play croquet and drink Pimm's. Created in 1840 by James Pimm, the owner of a famed London oyster bar, the concoction was first offered as an aid to digestion, and was served in a small tankard. The gin based drink, which contained quinine and a secret mixture of herbs, came to be known as Pimm's No. 1 Cup.
From these somewhat humble origins, Pimm's became the English gentleman's drink of choice, and various other Pimm's "cups" were invented after the Great War, using Scotch, brandy, rum, rye and so on as bases. Only the No. 1 really thrives to this day, its austere bottle immediately calling to mind British officers quietly having one too many in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and tipsy toffs doing likewise at the Henley Royal Regatta.
In the 1930s, Pimm's tried to find its market among the crumbling aristocracy who could no longer keep up their massive country mansions. One Pimm's ad featured such a troubled toff sighing, "We had to let the west wing go, but thank heavens we can still afford our Pimm's." Nowadays, like everything else, Pimm's is trying hard to be hip - it even has a Facebook group.
Gallery: Anyone for Pimm's?
For us its appeal will always be its traditional origin, understated elegance and innate Britishness, however. The recipe is still secret, "known only to six people," it is claimed. All we can tell you is that it is "carefully blended from fine liqueurs and fruit extracts" and is damned refreshing. Though not widely advertised in the States, most decent liquor stores should have a bottle lurking somewhere.
To make a Pimm's Cup, fill a tall glass with ice, add Pimm's to one-third full, and top off with lemonade or lemon-lime soda. Garnish at the very least with a wedge of lemon, but cucumber, strawberry, mint and orange can also be added. We've experimented with a number of variants on the lemonade theme; making your own fresh lemonade to taste and then adding a dash of club soda works best, but Knudsen's brand of natural lemon-lime soda will do in a pinch.
After exhausting the possibilities of the No. 1 Cup for the moment, try some variations, like the Pimm's Deuce (orange and cranberry juice), the Pimm's Sundowner (tonic water), the Pimm's Royale (champagne) and the fairly deadly Pimm's Plus (gin and lemonade). Keep a stiff upper lip, old chap, and be sure to toast the Queen's health.