An English Summertime Cocktail That's Effervescent

An English Summertime Cocktail That's Effervescent
Courtesy of Food & Wine‍

Drinkable during the day.

Pimm's Cup is incredibly British. It's as British as tea, or as British as calling fries chips and chips crisps, or as British as watching Blackadder while you wait in line on your mobile phone. It's impossible to fully experience an English summer unless you drink a Pimm's Cup while sheltering from the rain, according to cocktail author and genuine British person Simon Difford.

There is no doubt that we share a language, but this is sufficiently British to require some translation.

Pimm's cocktail, technically known as Pimm's No. 1 Cup, was created by oyster bar owner James Pimm in the mid-1800s. For almost a century, Pimm's Fruit Cup has been served in the same way as a cup, a fruit cup, or a summer cup, which consists of gin, fruit, herbs, and spices mixed with a light soft drink, then garnished liberally for tall effervescence.

It is assumed that the original gin-based liqueur was called Pimm's No. 1 and the new version of Pimm's No. 2 had a scotch whiskey base. Until the 1970s, they went all the way up to No. 6 in a variety of liquor bases, but as most other worthwhile spiritous pursuits declined in the 1970s and '80s, interest in Pimm’s declined. Thus, apart from a few small or seasonal things, we are left with Pimm’s No. 1 Cup, a gin-based herbal liqueur.

As a result of their all-around goodness, so many versions have been allowed to proliferate. Whether you make it from scratch or from canned, Pimm’s Cup is an excellent summer cooler, its modest proof and herbaceous flavor making it perfect for drinking during the day, as well as its natural affinity for flavors like cucumber fresh garnishes to shame a salad bar. You may be further confused by the fact that some people use ginger ale instead of lemon lime soda, while others use American lemonade from the corner store, presumably because they misunderstand the Englishness of it.

It is because they are all quite good that so many versions have proliferated. No matter how you make it, Pimm’s Cup is a great summer cooler; its modest proof and herbaceousness make it ideal for drinking during the day, and its natural affinity for cucumbers and mint make it especially refreshing. Many English summertime events, including the Chelsea Flower Show, Henley Royal Regatta, and Royal Ascot, require the Pimm’s Cup as its official cocktail. I know I sound like I’m making up that last one, but I promise I’m not, and it has been inseparable from Wimbledon for the last 50 years, where 276,000 of them are consumed by attendees in two weeks.

If you want to mumble something like "jolly good" while you fix it, well, that's all well and good too. And if you want to drink it on a late spring or summer day that calls for a brief bit of rain, all the better.

Pimm’s Cup

  • 2 oz. Pimm’s No. 1 Cup
  • 0.5 oz. lime or lemon juice
  • 3.5-4 oz. lemon-lime soda or ginger beer

Pour all ingredients into a tall glass with ice, garnish with a cucumber, mint, a slice of orange, apple and strawberry, and if you like, add some orange, apple, and strawberry slices at the same time.


Courtesy of Parkhill Cellars

Unless you have a soda with an especially tart taste, you'll want to add lime or lemon juice to your Pimm's.

It is important to choose the right soft drink for the Pimm’s Cup. The original English “lemonade”, Sprite or 7 Up, makes an excellent version, but is a bit superficial. You can level up the taste profile by adding something as simple as sliced cucumber to the glass.

On the other hand, using ginger beer to finish your Pimm's Cup is phenomenal at first, but it has such a strong flavor that it can become weird or muddy when you add multiple garnishes. This has taught me that you might want to use lemon-lime soda for your Pimm's Cups if you'd like to add a cornucopia. If you'd rather stick to cucumber and mint, feel free to use ginger beer as well.

Another big question is garnishes. Some people just use cucumbers. Others add mint to that. Others still use oranges, strawberries, apples, basil, thyme, and who knows what else. There is a philosophical difference between people. Some say that a Pimm’s Cup isn’t a Pimm’s Cup unless it is palpably heavier with garnishes. The rest think that's silly, it's about the liquid, not the garnishes. In my opinion, the latter is the better option, but who am I to tell you not to add a pickled carrot to your salad?

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