The quintessential slow-sipping summer fruit cup, the Pimm’s Cup is an effervescent mix of fruit, liqueurs, and spices with soda like sparkling lemonade or ginger beer. It’s a thirst-quenching, cooling, life-affirming digestif.
The History of the Pimm's Cup
Shellfish-monger and oyster bar restaurateur (an oysterateur, if you will) James Pimm is credited with creating this most British summertime drink. Opening his oyster houses in 1840s London, they soon became famous for the “House Cup,” a gin sling built on Pimm’s own patented recipe for the gin-based, be-fruited, and spiced liqueur.
Over time, Pimm produced cups based on brandy, rum, rye, Scotch, and even vodka—there are seemingly endless varieties of fruit cup—but it wasn't long before the Pimm’s Cup became the quintessential blend.
It would be another 80 odd years before the drink made its appearance in print, in Lucius Beebe’s 1946 The Stork Club Bar Book, but soon enough it was adopted by the Napoleon House in New Orleans, and it became the signature cocktail of Wimbledon, where it’s served by the pitcher.
What Is Pimm's No. 1?
Pimm’s No. 1 is a refreshingly bitter aperitif with the flavor of spiced fruit. It’s still made according to Pimm’s secret original recipe, and is practically irreplaceable.
So what’s in the No. 1? The gin-based liqueur has a deep red color and is flavored with bitter caramelized orange, herbal botanicals, and a mysterious combination of spices. Like other bottled fruit cups, it is a low-alcohol (just 25% ABV) pre-mixed punch-style liqueur to which you would add a ginger beer or lemonade.
As a hack, a lark, or just to elevate the strength, you can make your own No. 1 cup by combining in equal parts dry gin, curaçao, and sweet vermouth, and adding a dash or two of Angostura or other aromatic bitters.
Ginger Beer or Lemon Soda?
The effervescence of a soda is the backbone of the Pimm’s Cup, but how you answer this question will probably tell much about you, though you shouldn’t sweat the question:
- Lemonade will make the fruit cup a slightly more tart, but still quite refreshing, summertime cooler.
- Ginger beer—or its typically less-spiced sibling ginger ale—will complement the spicing of the fruit and give the drink a bit of a spine.
No judgment for the lemonaders, but you have a much more interesting and lively drink with that ginger-spiced finish.
Great Ginger Beers for a Pimm's Cup?
Typically, you’ll want a ginger beer rather than a ginger ale, the former typically being drier, somewhat spicier, and less sweet, though “beer” and “ale” can vary much in meaning. If you go too sweet, as many (but not all) ginger ales are, and it will throw off the balance of the drink and squander the opportunity to stand a good taste of ginger up against the fruit.
Here are three great ginger beers to try:
- Bundaberg, with natural cane sugar and real ginger root, is a good choice.
- As is Fever-Tree, with three types of ginger—from Cochin, the Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. These give it a warm depth over its carbonated spring water.
- Thomas Henry Ginger Ale would also do you quite well.
My Favorite Pimm's Cup Recipe
This recipe elevates the cucumber by incorporating it into both the mix and the presentation, and opts for a dry ginger ale over a lemonade or bitter lemon soda. In place of the ginger ale, you can substitute champagne.
More Easy-Breezy Cocktails
Pimm’s Cup Cocktail
- 1 long, thin cucumber slice, for garnish
- 2 thin cucumber rounds, for muddling
- .5 ounce simple syrup
- 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
- .5 ounce fresh lemon juice
- 2.5 ounces ginger beer
- Strawberry, for garnish
- Mint sprig, for garnish
Fill a chilled Collins glass (or another tall, slender glass) three-quarters full with ice cubes and a long garnish slice of cucumber running down along the inside of the glass.
Add cucumber slices and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker. Muddle the cucumber slices and syrup, then add Pimm’s and lemon juice. Shake with ice, then strain into to your Collins glass .
Garnish and serve:
Top with ginger ale. Garnish with a cucumber wheel and/or a speared strawberry or sprig of mint.