Monday, August 10, 2015

Bottle Buy: Pimm's No. 1

Pimm's No. 1

Pimm's No. 1 is a very British liqueur. I think I first learned of it from a friend who spent time in London, and everyone I've met since who has been there fondly considers Pimm's a cultural mainstay of the UK. By the time I visited myself, it wasn't all that surprising to see it on menus, because these days it's not hard to find a Pimm's Cup in American bars.

Pimm's is a gin-based liqueur infused with botanicals and spices, and it has a long history. Its inventor was James Tee Pimm, a theologist-turned-shellfish-monger who opened an oyster bar in London in 1823. He quickly became a successful restauranteur. He invented Pimm's as a health tonic and/or a cocktail to accompany his oysters - I've heard both. It was a huge success, and Pimm began bottling and selling it all over the British Empire. He expanded from there, creating the No. 2 Cup (a Scotch base), the No. 3 Cup (a brandy base), and so on up all the way to No. 6 (vodka). Only No. 1 survives, though Pimm's has released versions of the others as special seasonal bottles.

Pimm's will admittedly not be the most versatile thing on your bar, but it's a fun ingredient to experiment with. It does pop up in craft cocktail recipes every now and then. It's the main ingredient in one of my favorite cocktails, the Battle of Trafalgar, which I'll share the recipe for soon.

Pimm's No. 1

Price: $25
Alcohol content: 25%
Popular cocktails: Pimm's Cup

Pimm's Cup

The Pimm's Cup is the quintissential Pimm's cocktail, and there are many variations.  In England, it's made with sparkling lemonade, which is not very common in the United States, so here it's often made with ginger ale or lemon-lime soda. Often those are the only two ingredients, and it may be garnished with just a single cucumber wheel. But the true British version includes cucumber and a variety of fresh fruits. The Pimm's website recommends mint, orange, strawberries, and cucumber. I usually like to follow the most original and authentic recipe, but when I saw this one on Bon Appetit I couldn't pass it up. If nothing else, it was an excuse to use not one, not two, but three of the herbs from my patio garden, and ginger beer seems like a fine alternative for sparkling lemonade. If you're lacking one or two ingredients, it's ok - it is an awful lot of stuff - but the scent of the herbs as you take each sip is what elevates the flavor of this cocktail. It's an amazingly refreshing summer drink, and a particularly good cocktail for guests before a barbecue or dinner outdoors.

Pimm's Cup

History: So far, I can't really separate the origin of the Pimm's Cup cocktail from the origin of Pimm's itself. Did James Tee Pimm serve his liqueur with sparkling lemonade and fruit? Or did that come about later on? I'll keep trying to figure it out. But the liqueur itself is inextricably associated with this one cocktail. Even the names are difficult to tell apart.

The Pimm's Cup is the iconic drink for summer sporting events in England, including Wimbledon and the Henley Royal Regatta. It has also, somewhat surprisingly, become associated with New Orleans, and particularly the Napoleon House bar. Sometime in the 1940's, its proprietor decided that the Pimm's Cup would be an excellent cocktail to serve in the southern heat. And he was right.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's Cup

3 1/2 inch slices cucumber
3 oz. Pimm's No. 1
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. simple syrup
3-4 oz. ginger beer
1 sprig mint
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 lemon slice
1 cucumber spear
2 strawberries, halved

Muddle cucumbers in a shaker. Add Pimm's, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Fill shaker with ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a Pilsner glass filled with ice. Fill glass with ginger beer and stir gently. Push lemon, strawberries, cucumber, and herbs into glass. Cheers.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

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