Come summer, when we think of refreshing cocktails, we tend to conjure up drinks that hail from appropriately hot climates—tropical piña coladas, minty mojitos, and sweet-sour margaritas, for instance. If we cast our thoughts across the pond, it’s usually to the classic gin and tonic, but there’s another British tipple that deserves a lot of love, and is especially perfect for summer, and that’s the Pimm’s Cup.
Think of it as English sangria, if you will, but without the wine. It’s light, bright, subtly spiced, a little earthy and astringent, and packed with a veritable garden of orange, strawberries, cucumber, and mint, making it ideal for sipping on warm days, especially outdoors. The gin-based spirit on which the drink is built, Pimm’s No. 1, can be classed as a liqueur, due to its relatively low alcohol content (25% ABV), which also makes the cocktail pretty sessionable (i.e. you can sip it all day long).
“Pimm’s Cup” is a cocktail, but it also refers to that base booze itself, which is often called a “fruit cup”—which can be confusing if you’re American and that term makes your mind go straight to grade-school lunches and tiny plastic tubs of syrupy, sugary chunks of too-soft peaches and grapes. In England, though, “fruit cup” (and “summer cup”) refers to a drink or liqueur designed to be mixed with something sweet and/or bubbly, like 7-Up, lemonade (a lot of British recipes that refer to “lemonade” actually mean lemon-lime soda), or ginger ale. There are other brands of fruit cup, like Plymouth, Austin’s, and Stone’s, but Pimm’s is by far the most popular.
Pimm’s No. 1 was invented in the 1820s by James Pimm, a London oyster bar owner who realized customers stayed at the bar longer when they didn’t get drunk so fast (according to the Pimm’s website), so he developed a lighter, sippable, gin-based spirit flavored with a secret mix of herbs, citrus, and spices. Other sources say it was intended as a sort of digestif, but either way, it was a hit. It was served at his establishment in a small cup known as a “No. 1″—hence the Pimm’s No. 1 name that eventually appeared on the bottles. Large-scale production of Pimm’s began in the 1850s, which is also when other Pimm’s recipes started to be manufactured.
Pimm’s No. 2-6 were made with other alcoholic bases: scotch, brandy, rum, rye whiskey, and vodka, to be precise. Most of these disappeared after 1970, although the vodka-based cup (No.6 ) has since been resurrected, and a new version of the brandy-based spirit has been released as well, under the name Pimm’s Winter Cup.
During summer, though, Pimm’s No. 1 still reigns supreme, and it’s the semi-official drink of Wimbledon (in the same way that the mint julep is so strongly associated with the Kentucky Derby). In fact, they sell upwards of 300,000 glasses of Pimm’s during the event.
It’s also popular at polo matches, sailing regattas, and the obvious choice for garden parties, picnics, and outdoor summer weddings. You can make individual servings, but it’s traditionally batched and poured from large pitchers (or jugs, as they say in the UK).
So, how do you make the perfect Pimm’s Cup?
1. First off, get thee to a liquor store and purchase a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1. It should be fairly easy to find, but if not, ask your local store to order it for you, because you can’t make a proper Pimm’s Cup without it. You’ll also need your mixer of choice, usually 7-Up (or Sprite) or ginger ale.
2. Once you’ve got your Pimm’s and its partner, prep all your mix-ins. Sliced strawberries, sliced oranges and lemons, sliced cucumbers, and large amounts of fresh mint are all commonly seen, but you can add, subtract, or substitute as you like. Try melons, blood oranges, limes, pitted cherries, blackberries, kiwi, or pineapple in your Pimm’s, and experiment with all manner of fresh herbs, from basil to sage and beyond. For more guidance on this matter, see this article from Good Housekeeping UK, and this one from Food Republic.
3. Now that everything is ready to go, fill your glass or pitcher with a large amount of ice, crushed or cubed, almost up to the top. Add in your sliced fruit and herbs, reserving a few bits for garnishing each serving. Pour in the Pimm’s No. 1, and then the 7-Up (or whatever mixer you’ve chosen). A good starting ratio that’s easy to remember is 1 part Pimm’s to 2 parts soda or other mixer (so, 3 cups of Pimm’s and 6 cups of soda for a jolly big jug, or 2 ounces of Pimm’s to 4 ounces of soda for a single serving), but you can adjust that ratio to taste; 1 part liqueur to 3 parts mixer is pretty common. Give it all a gentle stir, and then serve, with a fresh mint sprig and perhaps a piece of fruit for garnishing each cup.
Variations: For more of a kick, you can add a bit of straight gin to your Pimm’s Cup, which also boosts the botanical flavors of the liqueur itself, or even add a splash of another spirit, such as whiskey or tequila. Alternatively, try replacing the sparkling soda with Champagne or Prosecco, or even with beer. Just remember that while these drinks go down just as easily, they pack a lot more of a punch, so sip slowly!
And then, as they say, it’s Pimm’s O’Clock! So, bottoms up, and cheers, and may your Cup runneth over (metaphorically speaking, at least).
Here are a few Pimm’s recipes to slake your thirst and keep you refreshed this summer.
Our recipe makes one perfect Pimm’s Cup, but you can scale it up to make a pitcher for a party. We go a little lighter on the garnishes (just lemon and cucumber, to really let the liqueur shine), but if that seems too restrained, by all means, add more! Get our Pimm’s Cup recipe.
If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t have to miss out on one of summer’s most thirst-quenching quaffs. Admittedly, recreating the flavors of Pimm’s No. 1 without alcohol is a bit of a process, but a fun and fascinating project involving black tea, juniper berries, allspice, coriander, grapefruit, nonalcoholic wine, and more. Get our Virgin Pimm’s Cup recipe.
If you get tired of drinking Pimm’s Cups before your bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 is empty (not likely, but anything’s possible), you can use it in other cocktails too, like this one with fresh strawberries, strawberry syrup, and rosé. Get our Ruby on Rails Cocktail recipe.
Speaking of strawberries, since it’s easy to end up with a surplus when they’re in season, it’s a good thing you can work Pimm’s No. 1 into desserts too. These charming little cheesecake tarts are infused with Pimm’s in the filling and in the fruity topping. If you can’t be bothered to convert the metric measurements, just follow any other no-bake cheesecake recipe, but add a little Pimm’s liqueur to the filling and use it to macerate fresh fruit for topping it too. (Try the same trick for Pimm’s strawberry shortcakes too.) Get the recipe.
This ingeniously American cocktail blends Pimm’s No. 1 with tequila—plus celery juice, lime juice, simple syrup, and club soda, with a spark of salt around the rim of the glass. Get the recipe.
We’re big fans of frozen cocktails in all forms, from sangria slushies to wine pops (and the classic frozen margaritas and daiquiris, of course), so Pimm’s ice pops are highly enticing, and just the thing to make when the temperature climbs. They happen to sell ready-made versions in England, but we’ll have to make our own; luckily, it’s pretty easy. Get the recipe.
This sweet-tart take marries Pimm’s with kumquats and fizzy blood orange soda in addition to lime, lemon, and orange slices. If you don’t have time to freeze the passion fruit and pomegranate seeds into ice cubes, you can just mix some right into the drink. Get the recipe.
A super-simple Pimm’s cocktail, this one is great for highlighting juicy summer peaches at their peak of ripeness, and it comes together in an instant, so you can go find a nice shady spot to sip posthaste. Get the recipe.
Header image courtesy of Pimm's/Twitter.