In this age of artisan cocktails, premixed libations are less popular than ever in America. They were never really stylish, since they conjured up images of brown bags, bums and convenience store parking lots. Nowadays they merely suggest laziness, as well as paucity of imagination and taste.
Not so in the U.K., where Pimm’s Cup has been a fixture of society for nearly two centuries. It started in 1823, when James Pimm began serving a concoction of gin, quinine and herbs at his central London oyster bar. Commercial production began in the 1850s, and by the turn of the century there was a chain of Pimm’s Oyster Houses in the English capital. In addition to the original (known as Pimm’s No. 1 Cup), the company produced five other mixtures in its heyday: No. 2 (Scotch), No. 3 (brandy), No. 4 (rum), No. 5 (rye) and No. 6 (vodka).
Pimm’s was purchased by Diageo in 2006. The No. 1 Cup is a staple, but the only others currently made are a variation on No. 3 (called Pimm’s Winter Cup) and a small amount of No. 6. Still, Pimm’s Cup remains a stylish drink in the U.K. It is popular at Wimbledon and the Henley Royal Regatta, and is customarily served at polo matches both here and in England. It is sometimes mixed with Champagne (called a Pimm’s Royal Cup), and frequently blended with fruit juices or lemonade.
No one but an unsophisticated lout would simply open a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1, pour it over ice, and serve it to friends at the local polo field. Most recipes call for the addition of soda (ginger ale, club soda, Sprite or tonic) and fruit (usually slices of lemon, lime or orange). Some versions include a few dashes of Angostura bitters and/or a shot of Plymouth Gin. If you want to get fancy, you can garnish the drink with mint leaves, strawberries and slices of cucumber.
There are probably as many recipes for Pimm’s Cup as there are for steak and kidney pie, but don’t fret. If Wimbledon is over and there’s no polo within driving distance, you may enjoy a Pimm’s during the waning of a long summer afternoon.