Notes on the official drink of tipsy toffs.
The Pimm's Cup is the established tipple of posh summer sport everywhere treasure rhymes with leisure. Originated in the mid-1800s as an afternoon refreshment for London money men, the drink now epitomizes "seasonal events featuring irritating rich people"as the Guardian put it last year. Its existence is inextricably tied up with ad campaigns celebrating polo and ironically twitting twits, and its name is guaranteed to pop up whenever people publish things like The Official Filthy Rich Handbook and The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous Cookbook. On the blog Luxist, Jared Paul Stern conjures the image of "British officers quietly having one too many in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, and tipsy toffs doing likewise at the Henley Royal Regatta."
But maybe you're a Pimm's tippler who cannot get yourself to the finals of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships this weekend (more than 200,000 glasses served!) or to the Henley (where they insist on garnishing with strawberry, cucumber, and orange). Maybe you're instead heading down to the Cape for a long weekend or crashing indefinitely at your in-laws' in the 'burbs. Or, maybe you'll be watching posh sport on the "telly" in your apartment. The purpose of these notes is to help any bartender anywhere keep up the Pimm's Cup spirit with élan. We ask only that you approach the task with a slight case of Anglophilia and a keen thirst for day-drinking.
Our hardware guidelines are arranged to serve both a veteran drinker with a tricked-out mixological workshop and a neophyte tinkering in a rude bachelor laboratory. Mindful of the reader who is fixing drinks on a stranger's tailgate, in a Spartan country cottage, at a pay-by-the-hour motel, or aboard a half-completed Death Star, we stress flexibility.
one sharp paring knife
spare paring knife
two pint glasses
two ice buckets
oars, racquets, cricket bats, bridle bits, etc.
Relevant piece of Kingsley Amis wisdom (1 of 2), regarding the electric blender: "Unnecessary, though by all means use one if you are quite confident of not having to clean it afterwards."
Our approach, which promises to yield at least one perfect Pimm's Cup, involves a lot of trial and a little error, and it expects you to join with other good fellows and ladies in subjecting one another's experiments to intensive peer review. The literature of the Pimm's Cup is lousy with dogma, but we come not to curse any particular recipes, no matter how disgusting, except those involving Rose's Lime Juice. Rather, we hope to light a thousand flames and that each of these gets five or more friends lit.
Edit according to fiscal, temporal, and spatial restraints. Adjust volumes and ratios according to taste or lack thereof.
Thirty pounds of party ice is not too much. Some will melt. Some will be used with the excess of mixers listed below to concoct nonalcoholic drinks for children, designated drivers, and persons treating chlamydia with antibiotics. Some will be placed in sandwich bags and applied to areas of injury.
Six 750 ML bottles of Pimm's No. 1, a mysterious potion of dry gin, fruit, herbs, botanicals, spices, and artificial caramel coloring.
Pimm's originated as the house digestif at an oyster bar founded by James Pimm. The 1882 edition of Dickens's Dictionary of London lists its location in the Poultry, meaning that it stood within a short stumbling distance of the Bank of England. The matter of whether Mr. Pimm himself invented the concoction is as murky as its flavor, but it is clear that a subsequent owner—Lt. Col. Sir Horatio Davies, later the Lord Mayor of the City of London—expanded the restaurant into a chain, bottled the booze for broad consumption, and authored its modern identity.
New bottles are 50 proof. Some refer to Pimm's as "a cocktail in a bottle," a phrase that may deceive you into trying it unmixed, which produces a peculiar taste sensation. It is as if a quantity of fresh mulch has doused an insurance fire at a candied-orange factory—inside your mouth. You sit there scrunching your face at the baroque bittersweetness, wondering why you're not having a Campari or an Aperol instead. But to balance the earthy zest of Pimm's No. 1 with other liquid zings and refreshing things is to reveal a unique richness.
If your neighborhood liquor monger does not carry Pimm's, then kindly ask him to do so. If he refuses, then move to a better neighborhood. Buy four bottles of Gatorade for the moving guys.
The instructions on the label are straightforward, deceptively so, telling you to pour Pimm's over ice and add ginger ale or lemon-lime soda.
More gin. Serious cocktail people will want to pick up a fifth of Hendrick's so as to play its notes of rose and cucumber off of the fragrant base. Unserious cocktail people are probably picking up a handle of Gordon's anyway.
Ginger-flavored effervescent beverages
A case of Gosling's Ginger Beer will help you construct a dark, rich version of this drink. The effect is faintly tropical but hardly frivolous—a sturdy palm tree on a breezy shore. Cut into your Gosling's budget to get some kicks from at least 24 ounces of one of the fancy-ass ginger ales that the Wall Street Journal is high on. Also invest in a six-pack of cheap stuff, Seagram's or whatever, to be plashed and trickled around, bearing in mind that if you rely on the stuff too heavily, you will start feeling premonitions of a hangover around your fourth or fifth sip.
Lemon-flavored effervescent beverages
The Tricky Matter of So-Called Lemonade
When an Englishman says he wants lemonade, he means lemon soda. I think. Not sure. It is, like cricket, one of those phenomena Englishmen are very bad at explaining. Stateside, Brits tend to substitute its lemon-lime American cousins, and so you could buy a 2-liter bottle of Sprite or 7-Up or even show some love for Sierra Mist. But it would be better to round up 6 cans of lemon Kas, a Spanish brand manufactured by PepsiCo. San Pelligrino Limonata, like other delightful cloudy lemon sodas, is a bit tricky here, but studies show that it can work well in concert with crappy ginger ale so that that your drink comes out like a complex Arnold Palmer.
Real Lemonade for Real Americans
The New Orleans way of fixing Pimm's Cup relies on lemonade. If there are children around and you'd rather there weren't, then direct them to go in the kitchen and make lemonade fresh. Making Collins mix, which opens up interesting possibilities, is best left to youths who are mature enough to safely boil hot water for simple syrup but naive enough to think that, by mixing the stuff, they are joining in on your fun.
Slate believes bitter lemon to be the most essential Pimm's mixer, its quinine intersecting with the No. 1's at a fascinating angle. You can probably raid your local supermarket for six or eight one-liter bottles of Canada Dry Bitter Lemon, but if you're going to the wholesale beverage-supply outlet, then pick up a case and grab a dozen little bottles of Fever Tree Bitter Lemon while you're at it. You could also experiment with this home recipe, but note well that the children will start whining when they get chili powder in their eyes.
Lemon Perrier is a great way to stretch your Pimm's Cup out on those occasions when you don't want to stop drinking but you don't want to keep drinking. But be warned that you're putting yourself at risk to become the kind of person who goes around in public asking for "Pimm's and Perrier."
your mother-in-law's diet tonic water
No fewer than six pounds of cucumber and 72 lemons.
Relevant piece of Kingsley Amis wisdom (2 of 2), regarding lemons and cucumber: "Few such things are more worth the trouble than adding a little cucumber juice and lemon juice to each portion of Pimm's."
Mint brings a shine to the affair. In The Joy of Mixology, Jon Regen suggests basil. Parsley is possible. You've got tarragon left over from roasting a chicken? Put that shit in play. It would be most traditional to use borage, with its cucumbersome scent, and the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., goes the extra step of saying that garnishing your Cup with a borage flower adds a "touch of class."
Limes work especially well with ginger-dominant drinks. Oranges add color, so buy six, more if you intend on engineering something that might be socially acceptable to have at breakfast.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries can be playful as garnishes and ravishing in decadent excess. This option begins to seem more desirable if the minors around are sufficiently minor to be conned into going out berrypicking.
Both green apples and good pears have a place here, especially if you are inclined to sangria-ize your beverage. (We are against sangrias, redolent as they are of overpaying for tapas at mid-20s birthday parties.)
one jar cocktail onions
two cans Roland Mandarin Oranges
two cans Dole Fruit Cocktail
four jars Earth's Best Organic Pear Puree Baby Food
the plums that were in the icebox
however many Collins glasses the movers didn't break
more pint glasses
two juice glasses
six mason jars
Of the many Pimm's Cup recipes available at Epicurious.com, our favorite is the one prefaced with the statement that "mason jars are a down-home way to serve the drinks." It is our duty as Americans to colonize the Pimm's Cup, to democratize it, to strip away its snootiness. "Anyone for Pimm's?" is their slogan; "Pimm's for everyone" is our motto. Also, you can use the lids to guard against being roofied.
If you are SINGLE, then invest in two plastic beer pitchers.
If you are MARRIED, then you will have more pitchers than you know what to do with.
If you are SEPARATED OR DIVORCED, then muster the will to rinse out a plastic soup container from your most recent order of greasy Chinese take-out.
If you are WIDOWED, then there might be an urn around.
three or more silver trays
uneasy commingling of nostalgia and dread
In her essential book How to Drink, Victoria Moore writes of the melancholy problem of the first sip of summer: "Pimm's for me is much more about the moment than the taste, which is perhaps why pleasure decreases exponentially until what began as a glowing glass full of promise becomes a sickly confection. … I only ever drink it once a year. But on that first Pimm's day, I love it—so enjoy it while you can."
Invite people over. Mix.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.