I don’t care if summer is “officially” over, I am determined to enjoy this summer cocktail until I stop being sweaty. Which will be, like, sometime in February.
The Pimm’s Cup is a drink I enjoy, but usually forget the existence of until I spy a bottle of Pimm’s No. 1 sitting on the bar. It’s refreshing, low-alcohol and ideally comes with a delightful fruit and herb salad’s worth of garnish. The first time I’d ever heard of Pimm’s, I was in college and saw the episode of ER where Dr. Corday gets Dr. Benton drunk on Pimm’s. (Lightweight.) Both the cocktail and the liqueur itself are referred to as “Pimm’s Cup,” which can be confusing. (The people who make Pimm’s call the cocktail a “Pimm’s Original,” though.)
The liqueur itself is what’s termed a “fruit cup”—you’re intended to simply add some fizzy and garnish and you’re good to go. Theoretically, you could drink it straight, but I don’t think I know anyone who’s tried that, myself included. Fizz is nice. Once the soda or what-have-you has been added, it’s still called a Pimm’s Cup, although some folks add some twists of their own and give it a different moniker. The cocktail consists of a 3-to-1 mix of Pimm’s and “lemonade”—but they mean English lemonade, which is not the same as American lemonade. (More on this later, but basically everyone uses something effervescent and citrusy-y and/or ginger-y.)
My Pimm’s Cup Quest kicked off at the beginning of the summer when The Manifest changed up their cocktail menu and added the appropriately seasonal Pimm’s Cup, seen at right. The Manifest’s Justin Park gave me a mini Pimm’s lesson, informing me that the “No. 1” in Pimm’s actually means something. (As opposed to Heinz 57, which is largely BS.) The “No. 1” formula for Pimm’s is gin-based, with a citrus and spice flavor. It’s the only one of the original six formulations readily available. No.’s 2 through 6 are based on other spirits—whisky, brandy, rum, rye, vodka. Reportedly, No. 3 (brandy-based) exists in a seasonal version and No. 6 (vodka-based) in limited production. The rest have been phased out. And according to the Pimm’s official website, there is now a Blackberry & Elderflower formulation, which I would love to get my hands on!
Justin gets full marks for his fancy garnish—the best of the Pimm’s Cups I sampled. I also enjoyed his use of Gosling’s Ginger Beer as the fizzy component. It had a nice bite to counter the sweetness of the Pimm’s.
Unsurprisingly, the Pimm’s Cup is not on the menu at Murph’s, but we were there visiting ace barman Jonathan Schwalbenitz; I spotted the bottle of Pimm’s on the bar and asked him to make one for me. Lucky Belly had the Pimm’s on their cocktail menu. Both were very simple renditions with no garnish from Jonathan (not that I blame him—garnish is not an Irish pub thing) and a simple cucumber slice at the Belly. Plain lemon-lime soda in both, as far as I could tell. Serviceable and refreshing, but on the sweeter side.
At Pint + Jigger, we plopped down at the bar and I informed Dave Newman that I was going around town tasting everyone’s Pimm’s Cups. He made me his version, which was the very first drink he ever won a cocktail competition with. Dave was the only one to muddle anything in his drink—cucumber and angostura bitters. He also used ginger ale and ginger beer—Bundaberg instead of Gosling’s. As a garnish, a cucumber slice doused with bitters. Less fancy than Justin’s garnish, but I’ve never known Dave to get crazy with the garnishes anyway, so it’s true to his style.
I was running out of summer and we spent two weeks in Utah, so I figured that was the end of my Pimm’s trail. But then we finished off our road trip in Las Vegas and paid a visit to the hidden speakeasy The Laundry Room. It was awesome fun and bartender Juyoung (June) Kang was excellent! And on her pages-long cocktail menu she had a drink called “Miss Pimm’s Diary.” So of course I had to get it. She uses simple syrup, soda and Peach Bitters, along with fruits, cucumber and mint. Another garden in my drink! I chatted with June about my Pimm’s Quest project and she’s the one who educated me on English lemonade. “It’s not the same thing,” she said. For starters, it’s carbonated. Hence the use of lemon-lime soda (e.g. Sprite or 7-Up) in most Pimm’s Cup recipes. June uses simple syrup, soda and lemon to get the same effect. She also said that if she has it, she likes to use Fever Tree Lemon Tonic because of the interesting flavors it has. No photos because The Laundry Room does not allow photos. If you’re in Vegas, I highly recommend a visit. (There’s a whole reservation system involved. Check out their Facebook page for the info.)
NOW I was done with my Pimm’s project, I thought. (Obviously, I did not make this a thorough and exhaustive quest, since there are other places that I could have made the effort to go and visit. But it’s hot. I just want to go to the closest air-conditioned bar and have a nice drink. That’s my excuse.) However, when we attended the O‘ahu kick-off event for the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival, Under the Modern Moon, mixologist Chandra Lucariello was mixing up a twist on Pimm’s Cups!
Her drink was called the Bonsai and in addition to the Pimm’s No. 1, it included strawberry purée, cucumber-shiso-yuzu juice and ginger beer. Chandra also made hers pretty—I would expect no less; girl always looks fabulous and so do her drinks—and it was sooooo refreshing in the heat. It was a lovely shade of red, due to the strawberry purée.
So there you have it, six different Pimm’s Cups, no two alike. It’s still hot. Go get—or make—yourself one.